online: 16 november 2004
modified: 14, 15, 16 november 9 december 2004, 22 june 2005

14 november 2004 imagination and reality

16:48 There are 100 or so people here today, in the outdoor cafe, on a sunday afternoon... The sky is clear except for mare's tails at a high altitude, one long vapour trail and one very short one.

I remember when jet engines became reliable enough to replace propellers rotating in the atmosphere. The jets, by enclosing the propellers in a duct of atmospheric air, mixed with burning paraffin, operated best at greater speeds and altitudes (approaching or beyond the speed of sound and higher up into the stratosphere, above the weather)... At that time this was an imaginative and practical miracle, soon to become a part of every life that is influenced by rapid air travel... A changed world for each of us, exploiting and exploited.

I'm writing and rewriting this after two days of reading Wallace Stevens' letters* and, before that, his collected writings**... I realise now that his great physical and intellectual strength led him to attempt a poetry equal to nature, 'to raise poetry to the status of a secular religion' (Kathryne Lindberg***). I imagine that the effect of this has yet to be known or felt among those who still believe in a god who is dead to most of us.

*Letters of Wallace Stevens, selected and edited by Holly Stevens with a foreword by Richard Howard, University of California Press, Berkeley, Los Angeles, London, first paperback printing 1996... and particularly letter 873, to Renato Poggioli, page 790, re stanza XIX of 'The Man with the Blue Guitar':
...I want, as a man of the imagination, to write poetry with all the power of a monster equal in strength to that of the monster about whom I write. I want man's imagination to be completely adequate in the face of reality.

**Wallace Stevens: Collected Poetry and Prose, selected and annotated by Frank Kermode and Joan Richardson, The Library of America, Literary Classics of the United States, New York 1997.... from which I choose the first line of the poem 'The Comedian as the Letter C' which was itself selected by chance:
Nota: man is the intelligence of his soil...

***Kathryne V Lindberg in a web page called The Readers Companion to American History (if the link does not open search via Google for "kathryne v lindberg" "stevens")
Such ambitious and ambiguous poems as 'Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction' raise poetry to the status of a secular religion, a monistic philosophy.

I much like this close connection between physical and poetic reminds me of afternature, of the ideas of Maya Deren and much else... I feel that these thoughts are the central parts of softopia.

With thanks to my daughter Susan for the book token that led me to The Collected Poetry and Prose of Wallace Stevens and thus to these readings and thoughts.

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