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Options March 24, 2012: Michael Ruby: Close Your Eyes


Close Your Eyes is a book of prose poems in which Michael Ruby describes what he saw with his eyes closed. He is currently working on a sequel, called Visions.

MICHAEL RUBY is the author of five poetry books: At an Intersection (Alef, 2002), Window on the City (BlazeVOX, 2006), The Edge of the Underworld (BlazeVOX, 2010), Compulsive Words (BlazeVOX, 2010) and The Star-Spangled Banner (Dusie, 2011). His trilogy, Memories, Dreams and Inner Voices, is forthcoming in Spring 2012 from Station Hill Press, and includes Fleeting Memories, an Ugly Duckling Presse ebook, and Inner Voices Heard Before Sleep, an Argotist Online ebook; his poetry book American Songbook is forthcoming in Fall 2012 from Ugly Duckling. A graduate of Harvard College and Brown University’s writing program, he lives in Brooklyn and works as an editor of U.S. news and political articles at The Wall Street Journal.

Theme – As Slow As Possible - In the 1980s, when I was in my twenties, I tried and failed to write a manifesto about poetry. It began: Poems slow the reader down. A good story makes readers want to leap ahead and find out what happened. A good poem makes readers slow to a halt, lose themselves in the present of these few words, perhaps even going backward, realizing that there's more in what they passed than they thought. It forces them to regard each word, to try to join the writer in selecting each word. Words break free from their contexts.

If we accept the view of Roman Jakobson, in fiction and nonfiction, the communication/mimesis predominates; in poetry, the words themselves predominate. The signifier over the signified.

LANGUAGE poetry, by destroying conventional syntax, by putting words next to each other that don't normally go together, forces the reader to read one word at a time. In a formal sense, it's pure poetry. But what a sacrifice it makes to guarantee its purity. Compare Clark Coolidge and Shakespeare, which is also pure poetry.

One way the writer causes the reader to slow down is by writing one word at a time. However, prose can be written that way, too. So what lets poetry further "charm" language? The weight at the end of each line that we have to keep pushing aside?

The cliche that a poem can't be paraphrased is another way of saying this.

It's this that makes Stein and Zukofsky such radical figures in our tradition, though perhaps descendants of Rimbaud and Mallarme, who, in “Un Coup…,” partially accomplished this by spacing out the words.

Here are some related fragments:
It was in this period that it became important for me not to talk to anyone when I was writing, to completely sequester myself from other people. Writing poetry became an alteration in my relationship to language, a glacial slowing of the rate at which words come to me.

Poetic composition became a glacial slowing of the rate at which words come to me. Poems slow down the flow of language to one word at a time.

As I continued writing poetry in the 1990s and after, these ideas became somewhat dormant within me, and inapplicable to some of my books. But I have always believed that poetry is a slowing down of the speed at which words come to me, both in reading and in composition. Compared with speaking or email-writing, poetic composition is a glacial slowing of the rate at which words come to me, ideally to one word at a time, or even one syllable at a time. “One word at a time”: That’s what I saw in Shakespeare and Frank O’Hara in the early ‘80s, that’s what I learned from Clark Coolidge in the early ‘90s.

I believe there is nothing more antithetical to poetry than the high-speed performance of it, and I don’t understand why many experimental poets read their poems so rapidly.

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Michael Ruby  Close Your Eyes   Options

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