Sunday, October 20, 2013

ModPo 2013 #42 Talk All You Want...But STEER, dammit: On Creeley's "I Know a Man"

Image of steering wheel from 

I Know a Man

As I sd to my  
friend, because I am  
always talking,—John, I

sd, which was not his  
name, the darkness sur-
rounds us, what

can we do against
it, or else, shall we &
why not, buy a goddamn big car,

drive, he sd, for  
christ’s sake, look  
out where yr going.

Robert Creeley, “I Know a Man” as it appears on, from Selected Poems of Robert Creeley. Copyright © 1991 by the Regents of the University of California. Reprinted with the permission of the University of California Press,

Source: Selected Poems (1991)

What I took away from the video discussion was primarily two states: the hemorrhage of words and ideas that describes/ depicts the Beats versus the practical life...the life wherein one does, wherein one functions (as in driving a car and looking out for where one is going).  Is this the theoretical versus the effective life? As all things that we consider, this is a false binary. We know that one needs both in life.

I was particularly struck by the robot-like monotony of the way Creeley read this poem. It sounds like the drone of a text-to-speech machine talking. Maybe this was deliberate on his end if he were satirizing the kind of talk that Beats were used to: full of meandering big-idea jargon like "darkness" and "justice" and "capitalism." These are all just words when faced with real life and there is no answer except to continue driving carefully. Otherwise, it's all accident or darkness.

Talk ("because I'm always talking" with a replace-able stand-in like "John") or drive. It seems like there is only one answer, in this case. It's a good distinction, a good emphasis on grounding all this protest and talk in reality. There are no uses for words if there is no life being lived.

An aside: What is up with all this shorthand that starts in the Beat generation? I see it in Kerouac's manifestos and now in Creeley's poem. I'm not surprised. Maybe it is the introduction of a machine that does this. When the text generation started in the Philippines (everyone could now afford cellphones that had the SMS function) during the 1990s, it was common to speak in shorthand--all vowels erased if the word could still be recognized. Very telling. It echoes back to Niedecker's condensery. Can we do without the unnecessary? Yes, we can!

Lastly, I see Creeley's poem as a challenge to the writer (and the reader). Take the goddamn steering wheel of your life. Talk all you want, protest all you want, philosoph-ize all you want...but take on the steering wheel. Direct your life. Take action. Otherwise, this is all pointless.

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