29 Dec '09 George Oppen

George Oppen was a poet of matter. Of stuff itself. Dealing in the opacity of things, the impenetrability of materials, the tangible complexity of the world.

Omission as an expression of the unresolved. The conflicts to be admitted in objects.

Gripped by the need for words to constitute a precise, faithful depiction of the world (as lived experience). But the poet's will to imbue that world with a unique sensibility. Tensors producing taut constructions.

A realist-existentialist. A soldier in the second World War, a mechanic, a furniture maker in Mexico. A Communist Party activist.

Oppen took decades to follow up his first collection of poems, Discrete Series. Critic Hugh Kenner once remarked, "it took him 25 years to write the next poem".

Of all so-called Objectivists (Reznikoff, Zukofsky, Rakosi et al), it's Oppen's dedication to clarity, his unashamed empiricism, open preoccupation with aesthetics itself, that has stayed with me over the years.

As with Mompou's piano works, Oppen's spare constructions are instantly recognisable as his own by their consistent clarity of form.

One time Oppen asked of another poet, "how can you write a word like 'angel'?". He was, above all, committed to an empirical honesty in language. The poet needing to earn the right to words through a careful first-hand analysis of the world.

Dedicated to the meticulous crafting of an economical language designed to capture the intractability of real-world things as considered in and of themselves.

At the borders of non-discursive knowledge; the impulse to restore to things a concept-independence through conscious acts of seeing is as direct a claim to poetry as I can think of.