When Loren gestured at William Carlos Williams’ famous line from Paterson “No ideas but in things” I tore up my apartment looking for my copy. I never finished it. I prefer long poems to short ones, and narrative poems to abstract ones. But I easily get lost in passages, projecting them onto myself. Like trying on clothes, often one aspect will fit nicely and other’s don’t. But I couldn’t find it— I had to order another copy. I think I walked off and left it somewhere, stunned encountering lines like this:
We sit and talk,
quietly, with long lapses of silence
and I am aware of the stream
which has no language, coursing
beneath the quiet heaven of
That’s one of the passages I blogged from my encounter with it. I remember talking to the poet Ralph Burns about Paterson. Ralph said: “Williams takes it back later in the poem you know— the bit about ‘no ideas but in things.’” I didn’t get far enough into the book to find out. I keep thinking that there are no ideas, except in people.
It is both disorienting and invigorating to see others expand bits of my reflections. and turn them into more fully developed ideas. Scott’s thoughts on studying for comprehensive exams reminded me of a comment a professor made to me near the end of my first year in the MA program: “You sound like you’re studying for comps!” I suppose I’ve been like that for a long time. I’m rather intense. Dorothea’s reflections on intense people and graduate school hit close. So did Jonathon’s admission that he’s very intense. Like Jonathon said, “It’s easy to recognize the voice of experience.”
Anyone who plays with language long enough knows that it easily becomes a facade to hide behind. In flamewars past, on listserves, I’ve been accused of hiding behind other people’s words. I cite poets and writers frequently because the more clearly express ideas I’m feeling. And I seek them out because I want to deal with myself and the struggle I can only face through language, having no one beside me to get lost in the stream with. Lately I’ve been sucked into a passage from Browning’s Sordello, and been thinking of making a list like Scott’s.