Wednesday, March 26, 2008


Sitting in the barbershop yesterday I picked up a copy of the Buffalo News. The number of deaths among American soldiers has exceeded 4,000. Iraqis — soldiers and civilians alike — are always excluded from these figures, as though the blood of their loss isn't fit for American print.

The news was out several days prior, but the gravity of the figure didn't hit until I had a quiet moment to consider it. Seeing the number in print in the quiet of the barbershop, light hum of clippers and old Vito's small talk, drove the figure with force. A light number when compared to the figures of other conflicts. But this conflict doesn't appear to be ending soon. And one is always already too many.

Today I ought to be reading David Jones. Not In Parenthesis but his Anathemata. Ought to. An uneasy awareness of obligation like Bartleby's ambiguous preference. The orientation ought relies on the distinction Zizek discusses, the one Dale Smith finds so fascinating — the distance between ought to and must.

It is precisely this distance which separates a poetry of war from, as Michael Palmer phrased it, a war on poetry. That ugly but productive debate between Duncan and Levertov on this issue, the separation between a poetry concerned with war and a poetry so recklessly obsessed with war that it compromises itself, reduces itself to slogan, editorial, banner of protest.

I ought to be reading David Jones. Resisting the difficulties, I pulled Wallace Stevens off the shelf and opened, quite randomly, to the following passage:
The immense poetry of war and the poetry of a work of the imagination are two different things. In the presence of the violent reality of war, consciousness takes the place of the imagination. And consciousness of an immense war is a consciousness fact. If that is true, it follows that the poetry of war as a consciousness of the victories and defeats of nations, is a consciousness of fact, but of heroic fact, of fact on such a scale that the mere consciousness of it affects the scale of one's thinking and constitutes a participating in the heroic.
It is difficult to know exactly, at the present moment, what to do with this passage. Though I believe this passage tells us something — perhaps — about Duncan's passages, and also his debate with Levertov — and something too about Jones. And something too about the present moment.