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This article is taken from PN Review 185, Volume 35 Number 3, January - February 2009.

A Gift of Bricks: Silence and the Poetry of George Oppen John Wedgwood Clarke

When I first heard a recording of George Oppen reading his 1968 Pulitzer Prize-winning poem 'Of Being Numerous', I felt as if I were being scattered over the city of New York. The place assembled and fell apart in the sound of his voice, which had a quality of restraint I found deeply moving. This was not a matter of emotional subtext, but the utterance of someone unwilling to say things they could not believe in, of someone reporting from a testing place of silence. He revealed the city as something pre-existent, emerging silent from the past and made meaningful only by the perceptions and voices of the people who flowed through it in the present. It was full of small, profound gestures, as in this poetic act of giving:


There can be a brick
In a brick wall
The eye picks

So quiet of a Sunday
Here is the brick, it was waiting
Here when you were born


This is naming as revelation and relation. Once identified, an insignificant brick can become a special thing. Carl Andre had performed a similar transformation in his 1966 work Equivalent VIII. His bricks were always going to be bricks, but they were also laid out in a rectangular shape, keeping the viewer moving between a unit of industrial production and the meaning of a shape that, in the context of a gallery ...

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