I started writing poems and also became a lover of mathematics at around the same time, at about the age of 14 — i.e., the age of puberty. Before that I had been a kid growing up on the streets of Brooklyn. After that I entered, for good or bad, into the life of the mind. And, I did not give up one (math/physics) and start the other (poetry), but rather I had been doing both all along.
What did happen, speaking somewhat abstractly, is that I no longer felt myself to be a possible mathematician. I left graduate school after three years and went to work as a programmer, first for the physics department at the University of Minnesota and then for the Computer Center at Columbia University. And, very gradually, by the time of my late twenties, I came to see myself as a possible POET — though I was very naïve about what “poet” might mean against the necessities of a real world.
Beyond this, it would take some pages at the least to articulate more precisely the relevant internal and external factors of this particular journey.
I love all my poems, so to speak. On the other hand, like everyone, I hope that I get better with age. Everyone’s first book is like first love. Never again so pure. It is not the kind of book that I would write at the age of 65, but its music and its gesture are very pure, very lyric. And in a poem like the “Modes of Vallejo Street” I probably went farther out that I’ve ever gone again.
However, when James Reiss published my Selected Poems in 1995, I made some effort to correct “errors” of earlier work — and this relates, too, to your question about Bishop (below). And surely good arguments can be made pro and con such correction, though in the years afterwards I thought that it might have been better to leave things as they were — since, as the philosopher says, no man/woman can step into the same stream twice. Not sure what I will do if the situation comes up again.
The simple answer is: every poet that I have ever read, as well as every poet that I have not read, in so far as such unread poets are manifested through those that I have read.
However, here are a few quick takes:
Louis Zukofsky . My teacher at the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn and my poetic father. He taught me to be tough about poems and to cut, cut, cut. And he exemplified to the utmost his dictum that the poet is learned, sensitive, and interested in everything.
Ezra Pound. The great 20th century master. And though he made serious and obvious errors as a man, his linguistic energy in the Cantos, for instance, never fails to be like a blast of wind that blows one across the room. And he seems to me to possess one of the greatest “ears” that ever existed in English.
Harvey Shapiro. In 1966 as a programmer at Columbia, I got to take two free courses in the School of General Studies. Harvey’s poetry workshop was one of them, and it meant much to me that he said that he thought I could be a poet. Harvey’s poems have always been a model in the use of cadenced “conversational” speech to render irony and emotion.
Adrienne Rich. My teacher at Columbia’s School of the Arts. She has been hovering at my shoulder like an angel for close to 40 years — pushing me to push myself toward what it might mean to be a moral poet in an immoral world.
César Vallejo. Although I do not read Spanish, Clayton Eshleman’s magical translation of Vallejo’s work (1923–1938) reveals the staggering largeness of this world-class genius. Vallejo’s transcendent metaphorical intelligence is absolutely grounded in physical reality and he manifests an empathy that is almost beyond belief.
Zbigniew Herbert. Again, a poet that I know only in translation — but I am not lying when I say that even in translation he continually redeems for me, as almost no one else, the vision that the writing of poetry is worthwhile. Simply stated, he manifests a sheer and dazzling intelligence in the service of the human that is off the charts, and very few can even come close to his “nobility” (to borrow A. Alvarez’s term).
Actually, “I” is used four times in the poem (Lines 9, 30, 33, 36). And I have nothing against “I,” as it is rather an old friend. However, I do sometimes consciously drop “I”s to steer the poem toward a more oracular (if that is the right word) or impersonal tone. Christ said something like “No one comes to the Father but by me.” I suppose he could have said, “No one comes to the father but by the son.” Perhaps it might be worthwhile to ponder the differences of these two phrasings.
And to answer your question none of this has anything to do with Objectivism (which Zukofsky denied was a movement at all) or with any so-called Objectivists.
And speaking of “I”s, here is the first part of a Zukofsky poem called “I’s (pronounced eyes )”:
those gold’n bees
Note: “Kuh” = cow (in German). A play on “haiku” — Japanese 17-syllable poem (5,7,5 in English). As LZ told us, he’s watching the sun’s reflection in building windows at dusk, which “looks” to him, as it were, like many “gold’n bees.” And, no doubt, he associates the cow (=kuh) to the sun, as in Egyptian mythology, the goddess Hathor was often shown as a golden cow (sometimes covered in stars), with the titles Cow of Gold, and The one who shines like gold, or as a woman with the ears of a cow and a headdress of horns holding the sun-disc . (In one of her incarnations she is married to Ra, the sun god.)
Here’s an anecdote. A well-known translator of Zukofsky into French, knowing that I had once been Louis’ student, asked me for work. I sent him some examples, but much time passed and I heard nothing more from him. When we next met, I “casually” inquired if he had, in fact, translated any of my poems into French. He had not — and then, as if in explanation, blurted: “You’re not an objectivist, you’re a ROMANTIC!”
This whole tornado swirling around Quinn’s resurrection of Bishop’s less-than-whole children interests me virtually not at all and seems beside the point. After all, the only person who might really be affected one way or the other is long gone and mercifully out of it.
I suppose that if you subscribe to the “masterpiece theatre” view of art, then it is a sin against nature to publish the “inferior” or “unfinished” work of a dead poet (or of anyone). On the other hand if you believe that art is an ongoing and ever-evolving process of engagement with the universe at large, then certainly there will be highs and lows in that process, and one polarity is not necessarily to be favored over the other. Or, perhaps one falls somewhere in between these two views? And didn’t Valery say that a poem is never done but only abandoned? — that is, who knows what Bishop might have accomplished if she had only worked on that fish poem for just a few more years, for example.
Aside from this, Bishop has lots of fans. And fans probably don’t care about the niceties of poetic distinctions; they just want to take home a piece of the star. And if my heirs were “lucky” enough to be the beneficiaries of a posthumous fame like Bishop’s, I’d say: let the presses roll.
No offense, but this is such an odd question to ask in the 21st Century. The simplest answer is, of course, YES! The easiest and often the best thing for a poet to do is to use whatever is at hand and go on from there.
In this vein, here’s another anecdote. One day, Christ is walking with his disciples and gets hit with a stone. Instead of manifesting anger, he forgives the stone thrower. His upset disciples ask: Master, how can you bless he who hates you with the same passion that you use to bless we who love you? Christ answers: I can only give what I have in my pockets.
I’m not exactly sure what you mean by fabricated (invented? made up?), but if I were playing devil’s advocate and were speaking purely literally I would say: is there a difference? That is, who can confess without fabrication? and who can fabricate without confessing?
From another point of view, I have always intensely disliked the term “confessional” as applied to poets and poetry. As I understand it, the confessional tag was applied to certain poets whose poems appeared to be disclosing “secrets” of their lives that were, in those days, not normally discussed in public. Obviously, another falsification of the real, like the falsifications inherent in the Bishop brou-ha-ha.
And as I have confessed: one uses what is at hand.