Scratch Lit

There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

Leonard Cohen

Ralph Maud on obscurity… (“Recurrences” chapter in What Does Not Change: The Significance of Charles Olson’s “The Kingfishers”)

Obscurities do not push one away from a poem; they are places where one is motivated to keep reentering the poem, bringing subsequent reading and experience to bear.

Readers are like philosophers, where there is no obscurity they will find one — a place to let the light shine through. I take as my example a reading from e.e. cummings “O sweet spontaneous” published in Tulips & Chimneys (1923) where the poet asks “O sweet spontaneous / earth how often have / the / doting / fingers of”

prurient philosophers pinched


which when it first appeared in Dial (1920) read

prurient philosophies pinched

So the uncovering reader (who reads the notes on the Representative Poetry Online edition) finds the abstract “philosophies” replaced with the easier to personify “philosophers” and the reader further thinks about the etymology of “prurient” from the Latin “itch” — and wonders just what these lascivious doting philosophers are set to scratch and notices that the line breaks and enjambement make hover an epithet over the philosophers, for a moment it is they who are “pinched and poked”. And so the reader circles back to “doting”: a sign of foolishness or fondness?

The surface yields. And in a moment of identification the reader/philospher grasps the alliteration (prurient philosophers pinched) as a place of “reentering the poem, bringing subsequent reading and experience to bear.” One to tag for memory. Not unlike …

Judith Beveridge in the voice of Siddharttha

Brahmins — even among
the cuticles of the dead there is wisdom.
And I’ll find it — no matter
who says truth can’t be scratched open.

“The Vow” in the “Between the Palace and the Bodhi Tree” section of Wolf Notes.

And so for day 1254

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