the shock of juxtaposition unmitigated

MOBILE, A Study for a representation of the United States, by Michel Butor, Simon & Schuster, 1963

Through an error of the inter-library loan system, I read the french edition first, and it was a fortunate error: my french being at the schoolboy level, meanings leapt at me from a turmoil of incomprehensibility – the french that I knew, the occasional english phrases flashing – you get the sense of us that Olson means, speaking of the Mayans, “the ball still snarled”, plain meaning being the exception, the miracle

the whole things is a dream, the materials being our own flat realities, it is the dreamstate we get into in driving this country, in which we sleepdrive off a straight level highway, or, as, the two grayhound buses, some years ago, near Waco, Texas, in the middle of night, the middle of nowhere, vision ahead limitless, slamming together headon

as in dreams, time-space are shattered, within the punctuation of present place and incident, we get history, anthropology, etc. – the motif of indian attention to peyotl is apt

as is the dedication to Jackson Pollock, it is the first full-length prose work I know in which – as in Pound, Williams, Olson – the meanings are stripped of all literary trappings, lying (as pigments) nakedly side by side, the shock of juxtaposition unmitigated

has Butor read our poets, or did he get it from the painters? in any case, this is a re-emergence of an old tradition of franco-american interchange, one that involved Jefferson, Franklin, Crevecoeur and de Toqueville . . . it is also in the tradition of that secondary European greed, not the landgrabbers, but those who gathered, at second hand, the land’s natural life: as, Coleridge mining the Bartrams – here, Butor makes a feast of Audubon, picking the birds clean

(Paul Metcalf, in Fire Exit, No. 3 (ca. 1969), ed. William Corbett, p. 67.)

proud flesh

“Whatever I’ve done, good, bad, or indifferent, I’ve done it and nothing can be added or substracted from it. There was an interesting article, a couple weeks ago in the New York Times magazine. It was called Ezra Pound’s Silence. To me it’s perfectly fascinating. Pound’s silence, to me, was better than the last work of Olson and William Carlos Williams. That late work was bad, it shouldn’t have happened. They should have stopped. Pound knew this about himself. He knew somehow, that the best thing he could do was to listen to his heartbeats, to sleep, to eat three meals a day. He sat at his desk and waited, and it was very beautiful . . . Olson incidentally used a phrase, I picked it up again in one of his poems the other day, a phrase that, it’s a term that fascinated me too, that I used in Genoa. It’s the term proud flesh. It’s the flesh that grows when you cut yourself. Your body produces, it’s almost cancer-like, your body overproduces to compensate, then finally reduces itself back. This is the kind of thing that I’m talking about.”

(Paul Metcalf interviewed by Russell Banks, Lillabulero 12 (Winter 1973), pp. 32–3.)


Eagles, wilde Turkeis much bigger than Engliſh, Cranes, Herons white and ruſſet, Hawkes, wilde Pigeons (in winter beyond number or imaginaton, my ſelfe haue ſeene three or four hourse together flockes in the aire, so thicke than even they haue ſhaddowed the skie from vs), Turkie Buſſards, Partridge, Snipes, Owles, Swans, Geeſe, Brants, Ducke and Mallard, Droeis, Shel Drakes, Cormorants, Teale, Widgeon, Curlewes, Puits, beſides other small birds, as Blacke birde, hedge ſparrowes, Oxeies, woodpeckers, and in winter about Chriſtmas many flockes of Parakertoths.

(Paul Metcalf, Waters of the Potowmack, p. 378 in Collected Works, vol. II.)

back to metcalf

“A unique poem or narrative may have a good deal more than what we call voice; or there may be a good deal more embodied than the term implies. The realized work is an organic animal, impinging itself, possibly, on all the senses, but primarily, of course, on sight and sound: the layout of the language on the page (and here the designer and the printer collaborate with the author) – and the appeal to the inner ear, the way we find ourselves hearing it as we read.

In a curious way, there is verification of what I’m talking about, in the appeal to the eye: I refer to the radical transformations a piece of writing goes through, in the journey from gestation to birth. A hand-written manuscript is one thing; run up on the typewriter it is something organically different. This is not often recognized, or comes to one as a shock: that the mode of presentation may fundamentally affect the substance of what it presented. The next transformation is from typescript to galley proofs; and when these arrive on the author’s desk, he may feel a curious mixture of loss and pride: the work is distancing, but it is coming nearer to its own final realization. The final transformation, of course, is from proofs to book. The work is at last born.”

(Paul Metcalf, “The Eye Hears, the Voice Looks”, pp. 55–56 in From Quarry Road.)