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Dear Lorca,

 

These letters are to be as temporary as our poetry is to be permanent. They will establish the bulk, the wastage that my sour-stomached contemporaries demand to help them swallow and digest the pure word. We will use up our rhetoric here so that it will not appear in our poems. Let it be consumed paragraph by paragraph, day by day, until nothing of it is left in our poetry and nothing of our poetry is left in it. It is precisely because these letters are unnecessary that they must be written. In my last letter I spoke of the tradition. The fools that read these letters will think by this we mean what tradition seems to have meant lately—an historical patchwork (whether made up of Elizabethan quotations, guide books of the poet’s home town, or obscure bits of magic published by Pantheon) which is used to cover up the nakedness of the bare word. Tradition means much more than that. It means generations of different poets in different countries patiently telling the same story, writing the same poem, gaining and losing something with each transformation—but, of course, never really losing anything. This has nothing to do with calmness, classicism, temperament, or anything else. Invention is merely the enemy of poetry. See how weak prose is. I invent a word like invention. These paragraphs could be translated, transformed by a chain of fifty poets in fifty languages, and they still would be temporary, untrue, unable to yield the substance of a single image. Prose invents— poetry discloses. A mad man is talking to himself in the room next to mine. He speaks in prose. Presently I shall go to a bar and there one or two poets will speak to me and I to them and we will try to destroy each other or attract each other or even listen to each other and nothing will happen because we will be speaking in prose. I will go home, drunken and dissatisfied, and sleep—and my dreams will be prose. Even the subconscious is not patient enough for poetry. You are dead and the dead are very patient.

 

Love, Jack

Dear Lorca,

 

When I translate one of your poems and I come across words I do not understand, I always guess at their meanings. I am inevitably right. A really perfect poem (no one yet has written one) could be perfectly translated by a person who did not know one word of the language it was written in. A really perfect poem has an infinitely small vocabulary. It is very difficult. We want to transfer the immediate object, the immediate emotion to the poem - and yet the immediate always has hundreds of its own words clinging to it, short-lived and tenacious as barnacles. And it is wrong to scrape them off and substitute others. A poet is a time mechanic not an embalmer. The words around the immediate shrivel and decay like flesh around the body. No mummy-sheet of tradition can be used to stop the process. Objects, words must be led across time not preserved against it. I yell "Shit" down a cliff at the ocean. Even in my lifetime the immediacy of that word will fad. It will be dead as "Alas." But if I put the real cliff and the real ocean into the poem, the word "Shit" will ride along with them, travel the time-machine until cliffs and oceans disappear. Most of my friends like words too well. They set them under the blinding light of the poem and try to extract every possible connotation from each of them, every temporary pun, every direct or indirect connection - as if a word could become an object by mere addition of consequences. Others pick up words from the streets, from their bars, from their offices and display them proudly in their poems as if they were shouting, "See what I have collected from the American language. Look at my butterflies, my stamps, my old shoes!" What does one do with all this crap? Words are what sticks to the real. We use them to push the real, to drag the real into the poem. They are what we hold on with, nothing else. They are as valuable in themselves as rope with nothing to be tied to. I repeat - the perfect poem has an infinitely small vocabulary.

 

Love, Jack

Dear Lorca,

 

I would like to make poems out of real objects. The lemon to be a lemon that the reader could cut or squeeze or taste – a real lemon like a newspaper in a collage is a real newspaper. I would like the moon in my poems to be real moon, one which could be suddenly covered with a cloud that has nothing to do with the poem – a moon utterly independent of images. The imagination pictures the real. I would like to point to the real, disclose it, to make a poem that has no sound in it but pointing of a finger. We have both tried to be independent of imagines (you from the start and I only when I grew old enough to tire of trying to make things connect),to make things visible rather than to make pictures of them (phantasia non imaginary) . How easy it is in erotic musings or in the truer imagination of a dream to invent a beautiful boy. How difficult to take a boy in a blue bathing suit that I have watched as casually as a tree and to make him visible in a poem as a tree is visible, not as an imagine, or a picture but something alive – caught forever in the structure of words. Live rooms, live lemons, live boys in bathing suits. The poem is a collage of the real. But things decay, reason argues. Real things become garbage. The piece of lemon you shellac to the canvas begins to develop a mold, the newspaper tells of incredibly ancient events in forgotten slang, the boy becomes a grandfather. Yes but the garbage of the real still reaches out into the current world making its objects, in turn, visible- lemon calls to lemon, newspaper to newspaper, boy to boy. As things decay they bring their equivalent into being. Things do not connect; they correspond. That is what makes it possible for a poet to translate real objects, to bring them across language as easily as he can bring them across time. That tree you saw in Spain is a tree I could never have seen in California, that lemon has a different smell and a different taste, BUT the answer is this – every place and every time has a real object to correspond with your real object- that lemon may become this lemon, or it may even become this piece of seaweed, or this particular color of gray in this ocean. One does not need to imagine that lemon; one needs to discover it. Even these letters. They correspond with something (I don’t know what) that you have written (perhaps as unapparently as that lemon corresponds to this piece of seaweed) and, in turn, some future poet will write something which corresponds to them. That is how we dead men write to each other.

 

Love, Jack

Dear Lorca,

 

When you had finished a poem what did it want you do with it? Was it happy enough merely to exist or did it demand imperiously that you share it with somebody like beauty of a beautiful person forces him to search the world for someone that can declare that beauty? And where did your poems find people? Some poems are easily laid. They will give themselves to anybody and anybody physically capable can receive them. They may be beautiful (we both written some that were) but they were meretricious. From the moment of their conception they inform us in a dulcet voice that, thank you, they can take care of themselves. I swear that if one of them were hidden beneath my carpet, it would shout out and seduce somebody. The quiet poems are what I worry about – the ones that must be seduced. They could travel about with me for years and no one would notice them. And yet, properly wed, they are more beautiful than their whorish cousins. But I am speaking of the first night when I leave my apartment almost breathless, searching for someone to show the poem to. Often now there is no one. My fellow poets ( those I showed poetry to ten years ago) are so little interested in my poetry as I am in theirs. We both compare the poems shown (unfavourably, of course) with the poems we were writing ten years ago when we could learn from each other. We are polite but it is as if we were trading snapshot of our children- old acquaintances who disapprove of each other’s wives. Or were you more generous, García Lorca? There are the young, of course. I have been reduced to them (or my poems have) lately. The advantage in them is that they haven’t yet decided what kind of poetry they are going to write tomorrow and are always looking for some device of yours to use. Yours, that’s the trouble. Yours and not the poem’s. they read the poem once to catch the marks of your style and then again, if they are at all pretty, to see if there is any reference to them in the poem. That’s all. I used to do it myself. When you are in love there is no real problem. The person you love is always interested because he knows that the poems are always about him. If only because each poem will someday be said to belong to the Miss X or Mister Y period of the poet’s life. I may not be a batter poet when I am in love, but I am a far less frustrated one. My poems have an audience. Finally there are friends. There have been two of them in my life who could read my poems and one of that two prefers to put them in print so he can see them better. The other is far away. All this to explain why I dedicate each of our poems to someone.

 

Love, Jack

Dear Lorca,

 

Loneliness is necessary for pure poetry. When someone introduces into the poet’s life (and any sudden personal contact, whether in the bed or in the heart, is an intrusion) he loses his balance for a moment, slips into being who he is, uses his poetry as one would use money or sympathy. The person who writes the poetry emerges, tentatively, like a hermit crab from a conch shell. The poet , for that instant, ceases to be a dead man. I, for example, could not finish the last letter I was writing you about sounds. You were like a friend in a distant city to whom suddenly unable to write, not because the fabric of my life had changed, but because I was suddenly, temporarily, not in the fabric of my life. I could not tell you about it because both it and I were momentary. Even the objects change. The seagulls, the greenness of the ocean, the fish – they become things to be traded for a smile or sound of conversation- counters rather than objects. Nothing matters except the big lie of the personal- the lie in which these objects do not believe. That instant, I said. It may last for a minute, a night, or a month, but, this i promise you, García Lorca, the loneliness returns. The poet encysts the intruder. The objects come back to their own places, silent and unsmiling. I again begin to write you a letter on the sound of a poem. And this immediate thing, this personal adventure, will not have been transferred into the poem like the waves and the birds were, will, at the best, show in the lovely pattern of cracks in some poem where autobiography shattered but did not quite destroy the surface. And the encysted emotion will itself become an object, to be transferred at last into poetry like waves and the birds. And I will again become you special comrade.

 

Love, Jack

Dear Lorca,

 

This is the last letter. The connection between us, which had been fading away with the summer, is now finally broken. I turn in anger and dissatisfaction to the things of my life and you return, a disembodied but contagious spirit, to the printed page. It is over, this intimate communion with the ghost of Garcia Lorca, and I wonder now how it was ever able to happen. It was a game, I shout to myself. A game. There are no angels, ghosts, or even shadows. It was a game made out of summer and freedom and a need for a poetry that would be more than the expression of my hatreds and desires. It was a game like Yeats’ spooks or Blake’s sexless seraphim. Yet it was there. The poems are there, the memory not of a vision but a kind of casual friendship with an undramatic ghost who occasionally looked through my eyes and whispered to me, not really more important than my other friends, but now achieving a different level of reality by being missing. Today, alone by myself, it is like having lost a pair of eyes and a lover. What is real, I suppose, will endure. Poe’s mechanical chessplayer was not the less a miracle for having a man inside it, and when the man departed, the games it had played were not less beautiful. The analogy is false, of course, but it holds a promise and a warning for each of us. It is October now. Summer is over. Almost every trace of the months that produced these poems has been obliterated. Only explanations are possible, only regrets. Saying goodbye to a ghost is more final than saying goodbye to a lover. Even the dead return, but a ghost, once loved, departing will never reappear.

 

Love, Jack