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MICHAEL RUBY: FIRST NAMES
I wrote “First Names” in the late spring and summer of 1989 on my subway rides to work—the R train from Union St. in Brooklyn to Cortlandt St. in Lower Manhattan. It’s the only work I’ve ever written on my subway rides. I’m not sure how I got the idea for it. My girlfriend Louisa Wood had a book lying around about the astrological significance of first names. We were getting married that summer, putting together endless lists of people we wanted to invite to the wedding. We were also reaching that point in life when we started thinking about names for children. In any event, I wanted to make something out of all the people in my mind, all the names in my mind, people I’d known or heard of or imagined. I wanted to represent a society, a world. In general, during that time, I was striving in my poetry to represent simultaneity and the endlessness of experience. (Michael Ruby)
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.
As Slow As Possible Statement
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.
|Michael Ruby||First Names|
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