On George Oppen

by Zach Barocas


I was introduced to George Oppen's poetry by a former lover who suggested that Oppen's masculine-poetic charms were worth pursuing, if only for their economy. I mention this because I believe that the manner and moment in which one comes or is brought to a poet's work is finally as important as the work itself.

In any case, she was right. Oppen was illuminatingly different from the willful, sprawling, macho poems I was then trying to decipher. His scale was entirely appropriate to his poetry and, further, his sometime reluctance to write affirmed my own.

I have come to understand that the joy of Oppen's work lies in learning to assume one's own position in the world and all of its complexity (to say nothing of learning the distinction between yet and but). Here the word is singular   as opposed to complexities   because here the world is singular.

Oppen's poetry is additive this way, synthetic, drawing its constituents into the poem. The aim of the poem is to behave as the world does, not simply to observe the world from which it is derived. Anyone who recognizes this distinction recognizes the importance of this distinction. Still, let it be said: there is one world, and in it all recognizable materials and events and resultant materials and events occur, sometimes causally, sometimes in series, and sometimes simultaneously. Some of these materials are words, some of these events are poems.


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