Perelman on "Chronic Meanings" (Nov. 1996 posting to a national poetry listserv)

Bob Perelman wrote:

I'll [say] the following about "Chronic Meanings." This is from a comment I wrote for a Scribner's antho a few years back.

"'CM' was written on hearing that a friend had AIDS; it is an attempt on my part to see what happened to meaning as it was interrupted. If one expects a poem to be more or less narrative, focusing sharply or softly on spots of time, "Chronic Meanings" might feel evasive. But in fact I was trying to be direct; the sentences came as matter-of-factly from my experience and imagination as I could manage. At the same time I knew I would be writing down only the first five words of each sentence, so there was a great pressure for some sort of concision, though I certainly wasn't after a haiku-like or 'poetic' compression: I wanted to feel what real-life, conventional articulation felt like when it was halted in the middle. I did work on (edit) the results to avoid habit and redundancy. As opposed to the classical received sense of poetry outbraving time, "Chronic Meanings" seems to me to face the other way, and to try to register time's evanescence."
The person was Lee Hickman, who edited one of the best experimental mags around, Temblor, in the 70's and 80's. I didn't know Lee that well, but I certainly respected his editing and was grateful for the effort he put into the magazine. The issues were around 150-200 pp., wide and interesting ranges of work from various avantgarde territories so that constituencies were always being introduced to one another. Lee worked as a typesetter to pay for the printing; he did the production, no typos. He put "Chronic Meanings" at the end of the last issue; so it's interesting for me to remember that he typed it. In a way, it was much more direct than any letter of sympathy could have been. In terms of the discussion of meter, rhythm and taste that's been going on here, it seems to me that the distances between points in the conversation are so wide that you finally have to vote with your feet, i.e., your life's work: any *comment* or single exemplification usually strikes the other side as more preposterous evidence of how right your own taste is.

My vote will, I'm sure, turn out to be against iambic pentameter, though I read the Romantic poets with great concern, & Shakespeare & endless others of the Brit canon. IP, written now, often strikes me as anglophilic, nostalgic-Arnoldian. I could go on with the adjectives, but it would be more a display of taste, commitments, cultural aspirations. I like Stevens, but often have to get past his orotundity to re-recognize how good he can be. Hacker's v. good, etc.

I have an MA in Classics, but I don't think that dactylic hexameter will help any living writing. Meter's ultimately a communal thing & new noises have to be fitted to old-new ears. When I read CM my intonation is for a sentence that will continue: (can't mark this very well in email word processes) "So *shut* the fucking thing [*OFF*]" without the *OFF* being pronounced. Counting words is in a way an opposite to the sonic regularities of meter: varieties of intonation within the vernacular.