Acts of Mind: Conversations with Contemporary Poets

By Richard Jackson | Go to book overview

Donald Finkel, 1978


Before the Beginning

POETRY MISCELLANY: Many of your poems deal with the problem of beginning. Edward Said, in his book Beginnings, identifies two types -- really two sides of the same coin. He calls a transitive beginning one that foresees a continuity that flows from it and is the product of the mind's desire to think everything through from the start. He calls an intransitive beginning one that challenges continuities, that may be disruptive, and that seems arbitrary and whimsical. I think this is a useful distinction for beginning to talk about your poems. In "Angels and Fools," you write about beginning as the choosing of a direction, a transitive beginning -- "Before the beginning, / there was no direction." And in Answer Back, you ask the question -- well into the book -- "How to begin what cannot be ended"? It seems to me, though, that more poems begin intransitively. In "The Drunken Subway," you say, "How many ways into / the poem tracks / left tracks right." And "A Few Pointers" begins, "Above All, the road must not be too carefully chosen." In what sense is a poem the carrying out of an intention, and in what sense is it a playful beginning, a plunge to see what happens? How are these two beginnings related for you?

DONALD FINKEL: I seem to remember a very early poem that begins, "Let me find my way. . . ." Yes, I'm very conscious of the problem of beginnings. Obviously, there's no simple answer. In a way, you can begin to talk about any subject, any area of experience, at any point, and find your way through

-146-

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Acts of Mind: Conversations with Contemporary Poets
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • The Path of Saying 1
  • The Sanctioned Babel 7
  • Untelling the Hour 13
  • The Domain of the Marvelous Prey 19
  • The Hallowing of the Everyday 27
  • Event: Corrective: Cure 32
  • Stepping into the Sky 39
  • Unnaming the Myths 48
  • On the Horizon of Time 53
  • Distilled from Thin Air 61
  • The Imminence of a Revelation 69
  • Renaming the Present 77
  • Lives We Keep Wanting to Know 84
  • Doubling the Difference 93
  • Questions of Will 101
  • Settling in Another Field 107
  • Living the Layers of Time 113
  • Double Vision 120
  • Emergencies of the Moment 126
  • The Languages of Illusion 132
  • The Mystery of Things That Are 140
  • Before the Beginning 146
  • On the Margins of Dreams 153
  • Unbreakable Codes 158
  • Projecting the Literal Word 164
  • Answering the Dark 172
  • Shaping Our Choices 178
  • Magic: Power 183
  • On the Periphery of Time 191
  • The Candle in the Pitcher 196
  • Selected Bibliography 206
  • Index 213
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