Robert Grenier’s Sentences

A digital version of Robert Grenier’s seminal Sentences. My students have a great time with it and the questions it raises—what’s part and what’s whole? what’s the function in a poem of silence and empty space? how does dispersal of the poem as a digital edition affect its prior existence as a pricey handmade edition? when he writes “bird,” does he mean a bird, or does he mean “bird”?—keep us happy and hopping a long time.

Whalecloth’s home page, with a bit of context for the poem.

Robert Grenier’s Sentences

No Narcissus

Drove down to Samish Island this morning for a dharma talk by Norman Fischer. A bit remains with me from the life of Dongshan. He was walking up in the mountains, newly a teacher, chewing on the question of suchness, his teacher Yunyan’s “just this,” came to fastmoving stream and was startled by his fastmoving reflection in the water.

“Wherever I go,” he wrote in the poem the moment gave him, “there he is, with me. He’s me. But I’m not him.” Norman, I hope I have that right.

Drove away with a feeling for the dreamlike spaciousness of the country around—green fields, tidal flats, starlings in the road, hawk on a powerline. If I could amend it, it would be to say, “He’s me. And I’m not him.”

A few points of contact. Narcissus staring at his reflection in the water. Chuangtzu’s butterfly. (Was I Chuangtzu dreaming I was a butterfly, or am I a butterfly dreaming I’m Chuangtzu?) And the spacious light of Sappho’s fragments (rereading them for my compost course) in Carson’s translation:

]
]
]
] thought
] barefoot
]
]
]

(She won the Griffin Prize this year, as did Brenda Hillman, on the international side. Wonderful.) More to come on Carson’s Sappho, how it seems to me compost might be a way to speak of them.

Opening the field

This by Robert Duncan, in Rasula’s This Compost, out of the body of which many of my thoughts here take sprout.

It is only the midden heap, Beauty: shards,
          scraps of leftover food, rottings,
          the Dump
where we read history, larvae of all dead things,
          mixd seeds, waste, off-castings, despised
          treasure, vegetable putrefactions
– Robert Duncan, “Nor is the Past Pure”

Speaking of the opened field. I’ve found a good prompt for working a way into Olson’s “Projective Verse” with students is to ask them just what that “field” in “composition by field” might be. Last time I did it I was way taken by the breadth of their answers. The page. The sensuous surround at a given perceptive moment. The expanse of possible questions.

I’m paraphrasing here, but my gist is, they helped me see how “composition by field” is itself composed by field, meaning at multiple vectors fruitfully.