["Stars" - 1926 - oil painting by Maxfield Parrish (1870-1966)]
Ted Berrigan: Well, when you say “I miss you like.., I miss you like.., I miss you like…” and each time after “like”, what you list, what you say, is something missing that..
Student: ..is good.
TB: ..that would be very similar in feeling to the way that you feel as you miss the other person.
Student ..but each one a different aspect of it
TB: Yeah, and each one a different.. and see how far out you can go, actually, yet still be incredibly accurate so that each time the person reading it comes across one of those things, they can say, “Gee, I know that feeling, and yet I wouldn’t have thought to put it in”. You know, you don’t want to say, ”I miss you like I would miss my doggy, if he were not in the room right now”, you know? Well, that’s really boring, but, if you had a.. if you happened to have an alligator for a pet, and “I miss you, I miss you like I miss my alligator”, that’s actually a little more interesting, but I’d like to make it more transmit-able and finer than that, I mean, I assume you can rewrite the poem and do a better job with it, but I don’t think.. I think it’s going much too far to take out “you”, and I also think it’s going much too far to take out “you like” with “saliva” [Ted is continuing his debate here with Allen – see here and here] – “I miss you like saliva” – that’s actually fairly interesting – “I miss you like saliva” – except I really don’t know what it means. I miss you like saliva misses you? – missing you in that way? – that’s a tad bizarre. I mean, (it’s better to be) simplistic and ordinary.
TB: “I miss you like saliva”, you know. I mean, what does… that simply doesn’t mean anything at all
AG: My compromise, “I miss you saliva dirt under my nails”
TB: Yeah, what you’ve done is try and make some good lines out of some weird ones.
TB: You made some good weird ones out of some weird weird ones. The way you’ve done (in this other line).
AG: Which one?
TB: When you were talking about “meditation knee”. I mean that’s the kind of (move you can make)
AG: Well, we’ll get whatever good example(s) we can out of it… One I kind of liked was a really complicated.. it’s really long – “I miss you like the dead Dutch Elm outside on the front lawn, like the sprinkler shooting across the green lawn. You shoot in me like that, like the dirty kitchen here, the dishes in the sink, the phone ringing, the subscription magazines that the mailman brings” – That’s an awful lot of things that jump around in every direction. I changed it to “I miss you dead Dutch Elm front lawn sprinkler shooting across the green”. Then I started a new line – “You shoot in me like that dirty kitchen here, sink dishes, phone ringing, mailman bringing subscription magazines”. What I did was just boil it down to the main elements and made a funny kind of syntactical pun with them.
Student: When you’re doing that, bringing it down into the main elements, in some way, you’re taking away a vowel-sound modulation that is quite..(central) which is part of the way of that kind of writing
Student: The “like” (the) “you” is picked up in vowel sounds..
Student:… like “miss you like..a knife in my shoe” or something, you know, It can keep going on and on, and hold in there in the line, and sort of.. that framework is a kind of a context, a spatial context, the repetition, and it kind of amplifies out and out and out..through its repetition
AG: I found it boring in the repetition. What I’d do is leave it in the first line – “I miss you like sliced bread, peach kafir, a Florentine at the French bakery. I miss you saliva dirt under my fingernails”
Student: Yeah, but I’ve got a hunch that was what Ted was after, in some way, in, like, raising the quality of the list to the level of..
AG: You’ve got to use your own judgments
TB: Yeah, but what I think you’re both saying is exactlty right, That is.. is that, generally, you can’t really get away with something like “I miss you”.
AG: (But) you see, I had to work with this text.
TB [addressing the poet, “Anita”, directly]: (I like this poem), you get a very eloquent diction, but you’ve got to get it by raising the quality of the list, exactly. If you couid raise the quality of the list to the way it is in the first three lines, then you’ll have something really very nice, but, generally, you can’t, in something as ordinary as “I miss you like”.. So you do have to start doing what Allen does, which is you have to go for density. You pack the things closer together, you take out the articles, you take out the “like”, but, if you go too far into something close to Surrealism, you become...
AG: Yeah, I’ve made this a Surrealist poem actually.
TB: Yeah, yeah, you become somebody who’s writing a poem that is, however good an oddity in itself, (obscure), when you were attempting to write a poem that was actually a simple expression of a fairly simple emotion. You take the simple emotion and divide it into all its complexity. The problem is to find out how to do that. It’s nice when you can use your own diction and when you can use the most ordinary idea and say “I miss you, like..” – “I miss you like this, I miss you like that” – It’s very hard to do that. It’s next to impossible. It’s perfectly valid and beautiful to try it, (if I thought it) a hundred thousand times. Generally, you’ll end up, out of sheer desperation and boredom, saying things like, “I miss you like shitting in the two gallons of water” because it’s one of the most boring things that people can ever talk about, or it is not exciting, to hear that people take shits. I mean, you know it probably used to be, but it’s not anymore. In fact, (yes) it’s boring.