One Rapture of an Inspiration
Sans Soleil, Argos Films, 1983
From Threepenny Review:
The fifth (and final) definition of “revision” in the OED is “the fact of seeing a person or thing again; an instance of this; a fresh or new vision of something.” That neutral language conceals a paradox: can anything be “fresh or new” which happens again? Since I began writing, the only act more difficult than making a poem has been revising it. Some of my most pathetic hours have been spent trying to re-inhabit the sound-chains and image-jumps that admitted me once, like a temporary password, to a secret order.
My frustration with revision doesn’t represent the same fealty to inspiration that Kerouac expressed in his “first thought, best thought” dictum. I am fine with continuing to shape a poem, across weeks and months, until it feels intact. What has proved impossible is when I realize ex post facto, often through someone else’s confusion or advice, that a poem needs more work—a clarification in the logic, or a shift in perspective.
It’s not that I don’t believe my poems can be improved; it’s that I have no idea how I, the I that I am now, can do it. There’s almost a metaphysics to this resistance. “Neither am I convinced,” wrote Basil Bunting, “that the poems that bear my name are not the work of some other person, long vanished, whose passport and pension card I have somehow inherited.” Part of poetry’s mystery has always been its estranging quality; the “one rapture of an inspiration,” when it descends, feels alien to my nature. And so I have never believed Valéry’s (sneakily self-congratulatory) insistence that a poem is never completed, only abandoned.
What patience or special power am I lacking? In Marker’s Sans Soleil, the narrator often refers to a friend, a fellow filmmaker. One obvious suggestion for the character is Marker himself. Along with other eccentricities, this friend has seen Hitchcock’s Vertigo nineteen times. One day, the narrator informs us, he decides to visit San Francisco, where Vertigo is set. Marker shows us the city through the friend’s eyes—or as the narrator imagines him, slipping into the Hitchcock shots he’s memorized, the vertiginous turns, the fog-smudged parks.
“He had followed all the trails,” the narrator tells us, her wry tone submerging a kind of terror as she recounts his journey.