Enclosed you find the first of the publications of White Rabbit Press. The second will be much handsomer.
You are right that I don’t now need your criticisms of individual poems. But I still want them. It’s probably from old habit – but it’s an awfully old habit. Halfway through After Lorca I discovered that I was writing a book instead of a series of poems and individual criticism by anyone suddenly became less important. This is true of my Admonitions which I will send you when complete. (I have eight of them already and there will probably be fourteen including, of course, this letter.)
The trick naturally is what Duncan learned years ago and tried to teach us – not to search for the perfect poem but to let your way of writing of the moment go along its own paths, explore and retreat but never by fully realized (confined) within the boundaries of one poem. This is where we were wrong and he was right, but he complicated things for us by saying that there is no such thing as good or bad poetry. There is – but not in relation to a single poem. There is really no single poem.
That is why all my stuff from the past (except the Elegies and Troilus) looks foul to me. The poems belong nowhere. They are one night stands filled (the best of them) with their own emotions, but pointing nowhere, as meaningless as sex in a Turkish bath. It was not my anger or my frustration that got in the way of my poetry but the fact that I viewed each anger and each frustration as unique – something to be converted into poetry as one would exchange foreign money. I learned this from the English Department (and from the English Department of the spirit – that great quagmire that lurks at the bottom of all of us) and it ruined ten years of my poetry. Look at those other poems. Admire them if you like. They are beautiful but dumb.
Poems should echo and reecho against each other. They should create resonances. They cannot live alone any more than we can.
So don’t send the box of old poetry to Don Allen. Burn it or rather open it with Don and cry over the possible books that were buried in it – the Songs Against Apollo, the Gallery of Gorgeous Gods, the Drinking Songs – all incomplete, all abortive – all incomplete, all abortive because I thought, like all abortionists, that what is not perfect had no real right to live.
Things fit together. We knew that – it is the principle of magic. Two inconsequential things can combine together to become a consequence. This is true of poems too. A poem is nver to be judged by itself alone. A poem is never by itself alone.
This is the most important letter that you have ever received.