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This report is taken from PN Review 192, Volume 36 Number 4, March - April 2010.

Poetry and the Rift Geoff Ward

In the beginning was the word. Trouble being, the word was always late for the event.

Words can describe, evoke, suggest, delineate, propose, haunt - do all manner of things - except be the thing or feeling or concept to which they refer. The verbal sign, while conjuring in the ear or on the page a simulacrum, (perhaps a beautiful, a crafted and convincing replicant, but a simulacrum nonetheless) can never be other than: a word. This is not a problem in everyday transactions, and indeed our development of language is possibly our greatest and our defining achievement. We certainly handle words better than we handle either each other or the non-human world. But living in particular spaces, whereby the hieroglyphs that spell ‘save the planet’ are not the same thing as a saved planet, the injunction ‘pass the salt’ no guarantee of approaching salinity, there is, built into writing, a certain lateness. There is something of death in all its usages. But then, language can also bring the dead back to life, allowing John the Evangelist or Emily Dickinson to speak to us, sort of, their thoughts communicating through bequeathed squiggles, mediated not only by their and our place in transmitted tradition, but reformed and re-squiggled by whatever historical jetsam has flown under the bridges of in- between, as well as the drift of whatever is currently making up our minds. Moments of historical crisis bring this reorientation of new meanings in old texts into sharp ...


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