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Page 7

Blankness needs our poetry
to delineate it. Even when we are asked
to "fill in the blanks," each blank is marked
by an underline ______________. And of course,
the blanks aren't blank, since there can be
but one correct answer. The blank to be filled
is surrounded by the incompleteness
it must match, like a neighboring
jig-saw puzzle piece.

What we call a "full life" is full
of such false blanks: "Would you like to
come up for...coffee?" "Is he...is he...?"
"It's nothing." "Never mind."
"Well, your work is certainly very...
interesting." "We'll call you." "Thank you
for your interest."

All the vacuous words, empty smiles, vague
affirmative grunts -- all those apparent blanks --
that mean only one thing, if you can hear --
but why do I call these "apparent blanks"?
Is there some other kind? Is there a blankness
that is NOT expressive, does not tell all?

Well, there's "the void," "chaos," "the whiteness
of the whale" that Melville found overwhelming
and seductive. And the blank page, not informed
by Tristram Shandy's coy context -- or a whole
blank book. And yet what is a poem, in its
asserted inevitability, but the unique expression
(or its illusion) of the blankness from which
it emerges? And what should be the subject
of poems written to fill a book of blank pages?

Note: Melville's Moby Dick includes a whole section on "the whiteness of the whale", a whiteness which becomes, I believe, the narrator of his later, less well-known book, The Confidence Man. Lawrence Sterne's Tristram Shandy (actually, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Esq.) might be considered, in its entirety, a discourse on blank pages, including some very odd pages of its own in the process. Other books that delve into blankness include Nabokov's Pale Fire and perhaps Kafka's The Trial, and (less effectively, I think) much of the work of Jorge Luis Borges and Alain Robbe-Grillet. So why read these poems? Well, my blankness is particularly my own. Blankness is like rice or potatoes: It soaks up anyone's flavor.

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