Section 16 - Symposium with Tyler and Ford
“Symposium” is an exchange of poems and poetic theory between Zukofsky and the two editors of Blues, Parker Tyler and Charles Henri Ford. Zukofsky mentioned to Pound on 9 December 1930 that he was including it with “Program: ‘Objectivists’ 1931” in the “Objectivists” issue, and described it briefly.1 In addition to including their two poems (“Hymn” by Tyler and “Left Instantly Designs” by Ford),2 their explanation (“Note on Hymn and Left Instantly Designs”), Zukofsky’s response (“Note by the Editor”), and their “In rebuttal,” Zukofsky appended a note directing their attention to a sonnet by Samuel Putnam, text included: “The Horses of Her Hair: for Riva.” All this in spite of Monroe’s prohibition is in small print, and the prose is in a style so elliptical as almost to prohibit understanding. One unfamiliar with Zukofsky’s critical career would learn little from this symposium.
As Tyler and Ford’s critical note implies, the two poems are examples of the two methods of creating the poem, “respectively: the symbolic and the mythic.” Tyler’s poem is a result of the symbolic method:
- for one proud moment
- is the lid rolled back and fran-
- tically the birth of springs releases
- hood of the humble hour, in which
- growth of the sensual face
- creeps from the creamy white stalk
- like wrinkles of a spring wound
- in a faultless conformity up to
- the head
- no where, when men decide
- lust is a moment for shock will this
- momentless jack-in-the-box fail
- of its head and its speech
- or the wordless twinge of its
- wire-filled arm, for
- one curved moment is
- the ruff supreme: the
- nose provoked: the
- mouth articulate with
- rhetoric, and is the strained
- mechanical form ousted for
- the eased air and softer earth, suffusing
- all the grave childwristed brain—
- so, till the thing shall rust of
- using too many times the fatal
- button, dust or the remote will
- will not detain
- laugh of the opened lid, the stained
- cheeks or the crested cap from
- being shock of the moment:
- faultlessly the well-known
- secret fast on the click
In this method,
the images depend upon a fixed symbolic scheme, dictated by intuitive judgment, and receptive of a contrapuntal motive (organic not technical) relating to the involved type of human experience composed of its own images.3
The poem’s “fixed symbolic scheme” is the metaphor of a camera’s action. Its “contrapuntal motive” is the association with nature—the camera’s “springs” like spring itself give birth to a photograph like a flower. This scheme relates to “the involved type of human experience,” the spontaneous shock of lust, laughter, or poetic creation, whose product is “composed of its own images”—the poem or the photograph. In this sense the poem is self-reflexive. It is written about writing; its final click finishes the poem. These correspondences are “organic not technical,” that is, intuitively not rationally contrived, so that the poem is an experience, an object, not a problem whose meaning is in something beyond itself.
Ford’s poem is a result of the mythic method:
- LEFT INSTANTLY DESIGNS
- describe the circles
- first; terror
- will stay and
- the moon displace
- them and control
- the rain;—
- then walk away
- in the rain’s disgrace;
- the blood’s obedience
- will follows
- instantly designs
- left in the sky’s hollow;
- once fearful often
- each ear then
- accepts its
- rightful coffin;
- if the dream
- cries, let
- the moon mother
- it, encircled
- with goodbyes
- explain your circles
- to the sun
- and, but for the dark,
In this method,
the images depend upon a given type of human experience, in which a concept operates through their inevitable behavior toward a dogmatic or scriptural conclusion; they are built upon actual experience and out of them intensity throw up metaphors such as might pertinently occur in actual experience: circles, coffin, mother.4
Here the images depend on “a given type of human experience,” which, unlike “the involved type,” is given to man not created by him, naturata not naturans. In the terms of Jung, whom Ford might have read, Ford referred to archetypes thrown up by the collective unconscious and approximated by actual experience—primordial images and patterns of instinctual behavior which strike meaningful correspondences with the type of experience that originally generated them in the archetypal layer of the unconscious. These archetypes operate “through inevitable behavior toward a dogmatic or scriptural conclusion.”
This analysis does not indicate in “Left Instantly Designs” the kind of “fixed scheme” which is as easily realized as in Tyler’s poem; however, like Tyler’s, Ford’s poem appears to have a self-reflexive aspect. It describes and traces to their sources its own “designs,” the archetypal “images” to which Ford referred. Beginning “describe the circles / first,” the poem circumscribes the “terror,” limiting it so that it “will stay.” This originally literal description is then replaced by the image of the moon, whose beauty, as Rilke wrote of Angels, is nothing but the degree of terror that we can bear. Bearing it, then, the moon controls the rain and the describer of the first circles can “walk away / in the rain’s disgrace.” The third stanza obeys the archetypal design, and the forth restates this obedience: the fearful ears accept their “rightful coffin.” The fact that what began as a necessary self-control is now a deathly trap does not need to be explicitly stated in the poem; it is inherent in its images. “Rightful coffin” stifles the dream, but the moon mothers it, encircling it with goodbyes that mist cannot smother. One should never surrender one’s freedom to run.
My analysis of the poem can only be too explicit. If the poem works, then the meanings I have identified in it are imparted to the reader without his being conscious of their means; those meanings are independent of his realization of its similarity to any other thing. The reader simply feels the poem as he would feel any other object.
Tyler and Ford recognized this experiential independence of the poem in their note. The poem is neither representation nor imitation:
The poem is a gratuitous and artibrary organism designed to contravene the hypothesis of continuous experience through time and space. It must consciously eliminate the assumption of a continuous or historical type of experience by the projection of a system of correlated images having an inevitable dramatic pause. The images of these poems are not representative because neither a duplication nor yet an embellishment of actual experience is desired; all that is desired is an experience which is not subject to the continuous or historical premise; the poem is an object.5
The “continuous or historical” hypothesis, assumption, or premise pertains to experience (after Aristotle) without a beginning, middle, and end. The middle of a poem, as Tyler and Ford put it, is “a system of correlated images” and the end effects “an inevitable dramatic pause.” In a limited sense, a poem has this beginning, middle, and end, and so contravenes reality’s sensible continuum; however, in a broader sense, the division between the existence of the poem and existence generally is arbitrary. It is just as one’s experience of, say, an apple. One comes into a room, sees it on the table, picks it up, examines it, puts it down, and leaves. Its existence is prior and posterior to one’s experience of it; its existence, in itself, is neither begun nor ended with one’s direct encounter with it. In one’s experience of it, one sees it has a skin, a pulp, and a core; in this sense it also contravenes the continuous and historical hypothesis. The difference between poem and apple is only in their mediums and their creators, not in existence or experience.
In his reply, Zukofsky differed with Tyler and Ford on the “gratuitous and arbitrary” qualities of the poem: “’Gratuitous’ depending upon the poet’s nature, but never ‘arbitrary’ if the poem is an object.”6 In its creation, varying with each creator, the poem may be gratuitous, but in its medium it can never be arbitrary. Its objectification depends on a complex of absolute effects. Zukofsky continued: “No objection to the second sentence if ‘eliminate . . . a continuous or historical type of experience’ does not refer to the poem itself—Pound’s Cantos discard the Aristotelian unities but are a continous experience in themselves.”7 Zukofsky took exception to the limited sense of the existence and one’s experience of a thing understood by Tyler and Ford. They did not think of the poem as “a continuous or historical type of experience” in itself. The Cantos contravene the continuous or historical type of experience which the Aristotelian unities were an attempt to preserve in art. Nevertheless, they are a continuous experience in themselves. They have an integrity, like any Image, independent of the integrity of any other things: “No image is representation, or at any rate concerned with esthetic dialectic devoted to evaluations of the ‘extent of imitation’ and other problems of this kind which bothered Baumgarten. The poem is an object.”8 It is an object independent of the scaffolding of references to the world outside the poem and upon which the poem was built.
One may work like Swift’s Laputans by building from the roof down, but a roof is still a thing existing outside of the poem. Whether in the mind or per se is perhaps not a problem for poets to worry over. In any case, the mind’s thought and a poem are two different objects—or states—exciting in common jargon such metaphors as “fluidity,” etc.9
The fact that a poem’s complex of absolute symbols may reproduce the effect of a thing outside the poem does not mitigate the poem’s separate existence. Zukofsky felt that the question of the absolute ontological existence of things does not affect the distinctions between things. The difference between “the mind’s thought and a poem” is common sense and could be described in terms of their relative “fluidity” or by many other metaphors. Zufkosky continued:
The analyses of the poems are very adequate—exception to “involved type of human experience composed of its own images” has already been taken.
The essential difference, for poetry, seems to be between two types of symbolism: the word as symbol for the object, and-hallucination. Objectivity and even merit may be claimed for the last. But Hymn and Left Instantly Designs are printed here for their objectivity of cadence and for their frequently marked powers in the use of the word as symbol for the object, rather than for their attainmentsas hallucination.10
Zukofsky accepted Tyler and Ford’a analyses of their poems, excepting what he mistakenly confused with the “continuous or historical type of experience,” but he rejected their distinction between symbolic and mythic methods. He proposed a different distinction which puts Tyler and Ford’s poems in the same class. In less personal terminology, they are “Objectivist” rather than Symboliste poems. A Symboliste poem does not have sincerity; its words are symbols not for the object, but for the mind’s seeming.
Zukofsky rejected their distinction between symbolic and mythic methods perhaps because he was not comfortable with the extent to which the mythic is dependent upon the archetypal, the “given type of human experience.” The key to Zukofsky’s creative act is natura naturans, nature as creator, not naturata, as created. Zukofsky has less acceptance than Tyler and Ford of the difference between the poet’s creation and natural creation. Tyler and Ford’s “In rebuttal” picks up on this point: “‘Gratuitous and arbitrary’ in any case because the poet and natural dispensation are clear apart; otherwise ‘hallucination’. The Cantos qualify.”11 One assumes this means they agreed with Zukofsy that the Cantos are a poem, but, retaining their definition of the poem, they still call the Cantos “gratuitous and arbitrary.” If a poet pretends his creation is equivalent to God’s, he is hallucinating.
Ending the “Symposium,” Zukofsky appended a note and a poem:
N.B. Mr. Tyler and Mr. Ford will probably be interested in this sonnet by Samuel Putnam:
- THE HORSES OF HER HAIR
- for Riva
- The horses of her hair rear in a wild
- billowwinnowing of nightcrest to a wake
- of brighter caution werewell where I slake
- drearfoundering of daydark in a mild
- propost to rapture’s log starfeet upppiled
- foamhigh to wavebreak waterhoofbeatquake
- rein back! pull pack shake off flakerain of snake
- Poseidonpeaks rein pack! O Diomed! defiled.
- And there was Phaethon and the whoring Helen
- and Icarus et cet sunwax shun parallax
- she sat at Illium’s gate and carved her melon
- Paris loved her hair better than ax
- better befuddled than battlebent he said
- they took him from the stirrups did they? dead.12
This poem seems to be Zukofsky’s answer to the unresolved question as to the status of the mythic method. It suggests a third type of symbolism, the epic, in which Ford’s archetypes might reside without Zukofsky’s Symboliste “hallucination.” The images in the epic method depend on created objects with historical or factual reference and archetypal significance. Their meaning, as in Williams’ formula, are in the thing, and yet the thing, like the objects of Putnam’s coinages, may be the results of the power of artistic perception to redefine possibilities out of chaos.
This symposium proves that Zukofsky’s “Objectivism” was neither extraordinarily unique among the literary vanguard nor a simple makeshift or superficial position. Zukofsky could accept as “Objectivist” work by Tyler and Ford while rejecting only the fine points of their poetic theories. Zukofsky’s points deal with intricate and refined matters of poetics—the epistemology of the poem as object, the role of symbolism, the importance of archetypes, the differences between poetic intention and achievement, and the relation between poetry and nature.