An art begins prior to its conclusion—which is why there can be, with great use, an occasion offering that sense of means which conclusions per se deny. It can be put more simply. A magazine, not interested in being either the last word apropos some function, or taste, or simply a reflection of what is already ‘valued’ speciously or not—such a magazine may define the new possibility by being, quite literally, the place where it can be formulated.No matter what becomes of it, art is local, local to a place and to a person, or group of persons, or just what’s in the air despite how vague that sounds. It happens somewhere, not everywhere. When it does so happen everywhere, it has become a consequence of taste purely, a vogue or fashion, and/or what Pound calls ‘style of the period,’ and definition has given way to a reflection of a given effect.
No man can work free of the influence of those whom he may respect in his own art, and why ‘originality’ should imply, in any sense, that he should, is hard to follow. The light moves, so to speak, and those who see it have secured an ‘originality’ quite beyond that qualified by terms of personality or intent. In poetry, as in other arts, what is learned is first learned by the example, that is, by what exists in the art as a complex definition of possibilities: literally, this or that poem. Taste operates here as well, of course, but again Pound is relevant in that he said, damn your taste, I would like first to sharpen your perceptions, after which your taste can take care of itself.
May I submit that when the poem, or the opinion, or the taste, has come to that security of whatever large magazine—friendly or not—one may point to, then all has become primarily taste, an approval of taste, and that the actual work of definition which allowed taste its turn has gone?
A friend said once of his wife, that she said she wanted to be a singer, but what she really wanted to be was famous. One can be famous in many magazines, but not in those given to the definition of what a poem, right now, can be. There are no readers, and there are, even, few writers, who will care to be bothered by what may be an attention alien to their own. Can you blame a German, French, English poet for not caring specifically about what you face, here and now, as problems? But can you care for his, if all your mind is centered on the peculiar structure of that language given you, to effect, by its forms and its sounds, what it is, precisely, that you feel only as a poem? With nothing at all sentimental about it, and “Only the poem / only the made poem, to get said what must / be said . . .” as Williams writes all his life.
It is very possible that what one defines, as means, as possibilities, will prove only a temporary instance, a place soon effaced by other use, as when a whole city block is leveled to make a parking lot, or park. But that is the risk. One cannot avoid it, or do otherwise.
I believe in a magazine which is the specific issue of a few men, facing similar problems, places, things. They may, given ability, find the next step all must take if only because they are forced to take each such step with their own feet.
September 14, 1962