The Mass of People & Letters for Poets

Just borrowed from the library a copy of The Selected Letters of George Oppen, edited by Rachel Blau DuPlessis and randomly opened upon this:

"I should imagine that in any really terrible economic emergency we would pretty much start where the New Deal left off--managers, administrators, social workers, engineers being called to Washington--even drafted--something like a war emergency. Disregard of private ownership of big industry where necessary---an enforced assumption that the welfare of the mass of the people was the primary concern of government, though probably with no theorizing about 'Working Class rule'----and no such thing in actuality, either.

And yet this isn't too realistic a picture either. Or at least is far from a terminal point in the 'class struggle.' Because there would still be many opposing alternatives--including war as an alternative to economic breakdown. I am more or less assuming the increasing obvious impossibility of war because of the newly discovered perishability of the planet.

I don't mean that it would all be arranged so smoothly and calmly and by the powers that be. But I cannot imagine anything even remotely like the Russian model in the U.S. Neither can I imagine that history will just sort of end with the present best of all possible worlds (17)."

--excerpt from a Letter from George Oppen to Linda Oppen Mourelatos (Oppen's daughter)
[November 1958]

Oppen's analysis and fantasy strangely still relevant.


DuPlessis underscores the importance of letters with regard to Oppen's poetry. What she says is worth excerpting and noting here not only in reference to Oppen but as a way to consider the letter as form generally, and especially for writers, particularly poets.

"Because many of the issues, stances, locutions, feelings raised in Oppen's poetry occur in the interactive arena of letters, Oppen's correspondence is an important part of his oeuvre. Letters are both intimate and declarative--a curious mixture of semiprivate and semipublic utterance; letters come from need, and there is an immediacy of provocation and response to them which helps dramatize ideas and personalize social and moral trends. The controlled dialogue which letters provide--a forum for hearing oneself, as well as for conversation with others--was crucial to the composition process of a number of Oppen's works. Letters offer both a mirror of what thought one did not see until it was written and an arena for self-explanation and gloss, important because Oppen's writing hinged on self-knowledge: 'in my life to know// what I have said to myself' (CP 242). Letters also provide a place for authority and judgement made less pontifical, more 'essaying,' by virtue of the possibilities of debate and response. Oppen's delight at 'the pleasure of being heard,/ the pleasure / of companionship (CP 142) was announced first in a letter; the recipient, Charles Tomlinson, set that statement as a poem, which Oppen then took back (UCSC 16, 11, 12). While not repeated in such a graphic form again, this collaborative interaction whose subject is precisely the ideal interaction of speaker and listener summarizes the dual functions for Oppen's correspondence: at once to create a dialogue and audience (vii-viii).

For another sweet photo of the Oppens, click here.

No comments: