Evening Will Come: A Monthly Journal of Poetics (Canadian Feature—Issue 53, May 2015)

Gil McElroy
Sometimes I wonder what came first:
My love of language, or my need to hide behind it?

It’s a ridiculous question; of course I know the order of things, the way in which it all transpired. I’d never been really drawn to confessional poetry, to the cut-&-gash of bleeding on the page; sure, like every poet I have experimented with writing that sort of stuff. But when I began to truly find my poetic voice in the early 1980s, it was synonymous with learning – with really learning – that the poem wanted to say things and go places that had little or nothing to do with me and whatever intentions I may or may not have had. My piddling little issues were of no overt, central concern to the text, though I know that in some way, shape or form they lurk in it somewhere. I wanted – still want – to build something that could stand free & clear of me, that didn’t lean on me for support, that wasn’t a template of my life, wasn’t dependent – wasn’t, in short, autobiographical. I would write an arbitrary line, and that line would decide what the next one would be, and if I fought against that impetus, attempted to assert a specific path of my own devising, things would come to naught. The poem would build itself, decide its own shape, its own future.

So there’s nothing extraordinary about being a poet. There is, on the other hand, something extraordinary about the poem, living, breathing, walking & talking all on its own. Yes, of course I’m somewhere out back there behind it (& really,I’m not hiding there – I’m just staying out of the poem’s way). In his book Scratching the Beat Surface, Michael McClure comments on Charles Olson’s monumental poem “The Kingfisher,” saying that “I am more impressed with the poem than with what it means.”

My poetics, then: synonymous with “my” poem.
It is a poem.

So Careful to Write

For Christina

So careful to write, of telling people, of making cruelties beautiful

It is not in diminishment

Some notions do much better to prevent breaking out in rabbles

There is more than just one malignant shape in a place so organized

There could be stuff about mushrooms, about the enormous weight of fantasy, about the foods of deprivation

There could be wild, romantic spaces

Or our jargon – it could be stupid

These here books, well, they could get it all wrong, & then, voila!

This could all be a perfectly reasonable way to total ruin.

Given a society of writes and wrongs, insights can be plausibly surmised

We were threats from the very beginning. Samples of the day were made. Systems were framed. A number were made up, even

We think the ones we have are ample

There was some status within our utterances, in the head-turning of our tongues

We liked to clock stable forms all atick with kinds of time

We could have had variants. We could have, you know

We preferred lazier truths within which we connected

We are, alas, superficial & borrowed

That trapezoid of experiment? Well, it could perhaps be accurate

But our words are generally distant, various bits all too clean-cut

There is a table of so-called “truths” and “strictly speakings…”

The contraries can be obtained, though

There is shape in any pencil, systemic through its seconds

Pleasure can arise out of such strictures, our dialects wonderfully oscillate

After meandering, we can begin

The love of something in the paradox of being mis-understood, words clanging & clattering, pollution-causing, even…

Debris clouds…


This is not a skull thing. I do not mean literally

A piece of paper can perform, of speech, its pitch, etc.

This is an idea, though

I get from myself, saver of no meaning, meanings we do not have

Getting words, many words, one forming another, subsequent, prior to

On & so on

What but there is said before?


It’s all linear, you know, though your body repeats

The French entered my body first, you know. They were out for words. They had thousands of empty streets to choose from. Their houses formed a horizon

Words lower the pressure, & then they, they dress so informally

Already a bit of paper shouting layers of passion, the words coming in from out of the cold

Tragedies & enigmas, they have their fair share of fate, hairy portions of bellies, & wrinkled hands fumbling about at the end of arms

The bristling forest of paper in their hands

No, more

The ivory mass of my head

My muscular feet of reddish marble

My much-tooted pauses

My timid glances at something indefinite

My intrusion enough to alter, depending on the saying

I am in an aardvark machine

I am absorbed in its tools

in allegorical skies

in black & white methods

in the canvas of detail

in large deviations from

in what (I’ve said this before) exclamations must really look like


in the generalizing of upright positions

in the glue of nostalgia

in the harbingers

in sometimes impudent things rounded by silence & paralysis


in keeping the wrinkles in conversation

in the love of gods in the paradoxes of making myself misunderstood

in the monasteries of denial

in worlds new & unalloyed, their lbs of absolute & everlasting solidity

in omens cut up into itty bitty pieces

in the processes of resonance

in the quiescent spectrums of “sometimes…”

in savoury nouns

in septics & cruel antiseptics

in the tendons of movement

in the unframed canvases of detail

in the venial laws of signs (the ones I have are more than ample)

in words whither a white space

in puny excellences

in the sentimental yaw of walls loose and full of relevance

in all the historical symptoms of zest

In a causal reading of words


A causal reading of words…



My tongue of impotent despair

I am no harbinger of other windows, nor the secession of corridors

Haven’t the perspective to examine the largest of these niches

If the pious smuggle should succeed, then this definition (and I’ve said this before), this definition I think it will just have to do