Something else I found on my hard drive: A letter to an old friend and publisher of mine, apparently in response to a request for a “writer’s statement.” I am pretty sure it was never published and in fact it was likely never sent. Makes good reading now though.
Fortuitously, just before your letter arrived my housemate, archiving at a local artspace, came upon the following biographical statement I wrote for a reading in 1994 or so:
“’Halliday Dresser’ is the defunct tag on a vortex once the site of floes of energy across a certain soap-bubble-curtain between subject and object. Having read widely, he knows nothing about many subjects. He is the author of a folded book. He lives in Noe Valley and collects frying pans.”
To which there is little to add, other than that Noe Valley is a tony section of San Francisco, in which I have never lived; and that I seem for the last five years or so, to have ceased the production of poetry. This is partly an ideological decision; while I’m proud of the things I’ve written, and tried to make them as good as possible, under the countenance of eternity, with no judge but chance (which is to say God) and yourself, reader, it seems more and more to me that writing is not enough. Art is not enough. Contra Duncan (whom I still adore as a figure, though he was an unpleasant human being and his poetry tends toward infantilism) I vow to make love and war as other men (and women) make poetry; exercising all my faculties at once.
Our society seems to be in decline and thus poets, like other artists, are on its fringes, isolated from its main stream and from each other. Poetry must survive, and I have done what I can to nurture it. But it is, at this time and in this place, almost an idiolect and not a potent tool for human interaction. I would encourage any reader of these words to consider these things; to what use are your intelligence and creativity being put? I personally would like to nurture, not just the art of poetry, but my fellow humans and other living things, and in so doing to hurry my society to its grave, as it is utterly corrupt. I feel this is the responsibility of intelligent, creative people, in such a place, at such a time.
“…So the stiff & strong are below
the supple & yielding on top.”
-Lao Tzu, per Cleary
To me this means that the most important thing in life is not to be a sourpuss. So: if there is poetry in you, make poems! I discourage no one from the making of poems. Merely from stopping there. Life is endlessly full of things to do, all equally essential and demanding as making poetry. Sometimes it may prove necessary to put a brick through a window; other times it may be essential to enjoy some barbecue. Poetry is being ever joyfully aware of life’s invitations.
Poetry is the art of observation. For me, a poem which does not bring its reader and/or writer to a condition of astonished observantness is unsuccessful. My poems have always aspired to begin there and end there; it seems that they still do, but no longer involve language at all. The truth is that I do not really know why this is so.
6 July 2002. Henry Coe State Park, California.