Wednesday, July 1, 2009

In defence of imitation


No, I'm not capable of such; I can't defend the indefensible practice of imitation.

Bad habit picked up in childhood or adolescence, wasteful act that must be outgrown.

Immature artists imitate; mature artists steal.

To paraphrase Eliot's injunction judgment.

It's not just that mature artists don't imitate, they initiate:

They create (synthesize, fashion) a mode their own—

each mature artist is unique, a continent split off from the mythical

Pangaia . . .

And those of us drowning daily in the oceans that separate the Land of Rich from the Domain of Ashbery,

salvation have we none.

As many Truthsayers have pointed out (see the comments appended below for some of their axioms)

my poetic process seems fixated stalled at an adolescent stage . . . .

The Verdict is in. The Jury finds me immature.

If I could only learn—if I had only learned—to steal!

Thievery is the path to maturity, the road I failed to take.

I don't know if Charles Tomlinson is a great poet, but by Eliot's measure he is a mature one.

He did forge a singular style, a work that's reckon in its pace and placements.

I value his verse, and,

being the stunted stripling I am, was drawn to do my doom,

i.e., ape it.

Of course I always try to dignify-deny this shameful predilection with the term, "homage" . . .

(I even vanity-published a book of such poems under that rubric).

Anyway, here's my attempt at Tomlinson,—

puerile mimickry: call it callow, juvenile,

(parodies are permissible, but not this:)

condemn me for deliberately trying to write like someone I admire:

—the worst heinous a poet can commit, the prime crime, the original sin of unoriginality—



By a swath of inks the eye
thinks it sees solidities
which alter with the watercolor
way his brush washes its dye

in distance, though even this
finds a faraway fixed not
by the surveyor’s plumb but
by the action of the thumb

delaying all the fingers meant
to draw out of the paper,
splashed dry. The clean grain

catches what it should retain
if enough pressure pleasure
is applied to the stain to lie.

Tomlinson is not only a distinctive poet, but a visual artist of repute. His graphics grace the covers of many of his books. This Homage attempts to imitate his verse style, or one of his verse styles.