For months I’ve been working on a poem called “Time.” Will it stand the test of time? Nothing’s more overrated than immortality... Just read biographies of the Famous: Shakespeare was an extraterrestrial. So was Mozart, but not Mahler. The only light in my studio— the laptop screen, my “window on the world.” Why go on? Why all this Sturm und Drang? For pleasure? Out of spite? To serve god and/or country? The morning star? “Because it is there”?
I would sing, if I had “technique,” about an alpine meadow, the history of quantum physics, and the death of the senile pope. I would touch on my moods and affection for windshield wipers. Instead, I observe everything, record everything like Vertov’s man with a movie camera: the street, the amusement park, the crowded mall (terrorists’ targets), the empty stadium, the hotel- casino, the police headquarters, the clock at the Grand Central Station, the partial eclipse of the moon.
Is this what Eliot meant by “impersonality”? I don’t know what I’m feeling and so reserve comment. My life devoted to beauty, vissi d’arte, and so on and so forth... But I won’t lead you out of confusion; I won’t comfort you as you follow your leaders and their somnambulist leaders. I’m not the light in your mind. This poem amounts to, at best, a conversation with myself. (Who?) My letter to the world that never wrote to me. (The post stamp has the word “LOVE” on it.) Few things amuse me besides movies and songs.
One day I was reading a poem about a boat made of stones that had lost their weight, but I understood none of it. None of the post-romantic concomitance of thing and idea— my mind was not a boat, nor, I guess, meaning my ballast. All I knew was the sound (though not “sheets of sound”) and the appearance of words. Thank you, Wallace Stevens, for making me feel alive. It was like tossing a cell phone or being in a car chase.
In literature, as in life, there’s only imitation. Richard Howard, at home, Greenwich Village, March 30, 2003. Don’t be fooled by complexity: What seems to you complex may be in fact quite simple. And: As one’s arteries harden, one runs the risk of missing the Next Big Thing...
Respighi recorded a nightingale to vitrify mortality. Messiaen listened to bird songs to make piano pieces, but I— never a precocious child, and an adult slow learner— I can’t write music, I can only la la, like Chaplin. I can paint, but I am not a painter, I am a poet. A creature of feelings rather than ideas, I prefer cities to campuses, art to museums. I prefer dreams to revolutions. My poems are full of images that occur to me in dreams. I also prefer the body and the new clothes it’s wearing to (cough) metaphysics. I never feel the same way twice. I struggle to make my mark. I write for myself or strangers.
My landlord recently repainted the house green. (It used to be green.) The Sisyphus across the street mows his lawn every weekend, then watches NASCAR races. Why be a perfectionist if all my tombstone will say (cf. Keats): “Here lies one whose name was writ on paper”? Poetry is silence in drag. Better waste more time reading about this Immortal: Matthias Claudius, the author of “Death and the Maiden,” put to music by Schubert.
Piotr Gwiazda is the author of two books of poetry, Messages (Pond Road Press, 2012) and Gagarin Street (Washington Writers’ Publishing House, 2005). He also published a critical study, James Merrill and W.H. Auden: Homosexuality and Poetic Influence (Palgrave Macmillan, 2007). His poems, essays, and reviews have appeared in many journals, including Barrow Street, Chicago Review, Hotel America, Jacket, PN Review, Postmodern Culture, Rattle, The Southern Review, The Times Literary Supplement, and XCP: Cross Cultural Poetics. Excerpts from Gwiazda’s translation of Polish writer Grzegorz Wroblewski’s volume of prose poems Kopenhaga were recently featured in the Denver Quarterly, AGNI Online, Colorado Review, and Seneca Review. He was Writer-in-Residence at the James Merrill House in Stonington, Connecticut in the fall of 2008, where some portions of Time were composed. He teaches modern and contemporary poetry at the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC).