Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Against explanation

Sticking for another day with writers' letters, a genre I never tire of reading, here's a charming one from poet James Schuyler, written in response to a fan letter from a Miss Batie on March 25, 1969:
Thank you for your letter. It is always pleasant to learn that someone takes an interest in a work which one enjoyed writing. In the past I have declined to comment on my own work: because, it seems to me, a poem is what it is; because a poem is itself a definition, and to try to redefine it is to be apt to falsify it; and because the author is the person least able to consider his own work objectively. Though as for the last, one certainly has to try. . . . The aim of any poet, or other artist, is to first to make something; and it's impossible to make something out of words and not communicate. However, if a poem can be reduced to a prose sentence, there can't be much to it. (Someone, I believe, has said that 'what a poem communicates it itself.' This seems to me true.)
The notes to Just the Thing: Selected Letters of James Schuyler explain that it's unusual that Schuyler took the time to write to a fan--and, in fact, the letter itself was discovered by Schuyler's friend John Ashbery in his papers years later, unsigned and, it seems likely, never sent.

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