Charles Leggett’s Comments
You can find introductory material regarding “Hard Listening” in last year’s fall issue of this very magazine—I am thrilled to report that FRIGG has now published nearly a third of the whole poem. If I wanted to make your eyes roll, either heavenward or back into your head, I’d let fly that “Hard Listening” functions as a symbolist confessional narrative, and then buy you a drink. (Cobblestone, anyone?)
I call the act of sitting down to write in a journal “site reading.” Here’s a mantra I very much admire and endeavor to follow, culled from an interview with the poet James Merrill that I first came across in his prose collection Recitative: “You hardly ever need to state your feelings. The point is to feel and keep the eyes open. Then what you feel is expressed, is mimed back at you by the scene. A room, a landscape. I’d go a step further. We don’t know what we feel until we see it distanced by this kind of translation.” Of course, the “site readings” from which “Hard Listening” is sourced burst at the margins with feelings, and they’re stated very baldly. So the long hard work of “writing” this poem was actually the editing of it, the relentless paring of it down to little more than imagery, tunes, some of the less overtly confessional (and embarrassing) musings, a few events and a few flights of fancy.
As more and more explicit and mundane biographical material was purged, what remained and took shape was an account not of what happened in those months, but simply what they were like. Not the thing itself, but the effect that it produced, as one of the masters said. The elements and facets of the “site” I was “reading,” it seems to me, form something that attains to an order of symbols that assemble and reassemble page by page, and I hope that in their skittish aggregate they communicate a searching through of the experience they represent for the express purpose of finding and making an artwork out of it.
Most of the pieces in the poem are, like the two FRIGG published last year, shorter and more concise—most are in strict forms, and encapsulate a single night. A few, however, like “Lines of Questioning” and “The New Year,” are more gnarly and have some sprawl to them. They better exemplify what I have discussed above, in that they cover more of the calendar, endured the lion’s share of the whittling away of themselves and, because they aren’t wearing the tight formal clothing, rely more nakedly on those symbols dangling and bouncing around in the chilly wet air.
So. Have another round?
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