The method of self-disclosure called “free association” wherein one writes or speaks all one’s thoughts in consecutive order (also sometimes called “automatic writing” in literary criticism) is comparable to serious attempts to read, write and understand poetry that directs attention to the totality of the thinking process. Memories and awareness of the present collapse into an experiential field composed of verbal presences which can be re-sounded for various interpretations and alternative directions. Both in writing poetry and in free association one listens for meanings rather than directing the though process in a purposive way to get to them.
When a poet chooses the moment he will inscribe on the page the lettered representation of what he wishes to present to be read, he becomes the creator of his own reading. As he rereads he can experience the moment he chose to move from the position of listener to his own thought to that of recorder. Those signs he makes to re-read are the hieroglyphic constructs by which he hopes to disclose the experiential prices simultaneous to its construction. Not that the line or the poem is merely a “live of thought” that corresponds to the naturalistic construct of a stage upon which the writer re-enacts a narrative representation of his conception of existence. The very choice of moments for writing poetry is part of the mysterious flow of attention alert in the mind of the poet to the tides and currents of his own perceptions. By means of his poems he attempts to catch his thoughts in their nascent state, malleable, yet in a way that their original sense may be maintained. When he abandons the possibility of authenticity, celebrates the inevitabilities of masks and roles, “plays the game” or imitates what he imagines would be succesful, he is resting from his more difficult work of finding clues to the solution his unconscious keeps presenting to him in various kinds of puzzles and disguises. Aware of the silence which ever more deeply underlines his utterances, drawn on by the music represented by these letters from his unconscious, by a kind of retrograde movement of language, he is led closer to the other voices of his self. Finding ways of noticing these thoughts at the moment of their inner presentation, he may isolate momentarily what is ordinarily most immediate to his experience but others most elusive. When we read poems we simultaneously listen to our personal associations as well as the intended meaning of words. “Words are notes on the keyboard of the imagination.” (Wittgenstein) And Freud: “It is only too easy to forget that a dream is a thought like any other.” Like the sequential motifs in dreams, a poem’s meaning often appears to be more verbal than literal, resonating with meaning rather than describing it. Sometimes sequences in poems (and dreams and thoughts) can be drawn together like fragments in a collage, to open another implied area not yet found. What is before can become what is next (to). For example, in writing poetry the very next thought may seem technically unacceptable but allowed to remain in the poem may later reveal an otherwise hidden intention.
In psychoanalysis attempts toward free association reveal to the analsand emotions which underlie his everyday conflicts. these verbalisations are interpreted by the analyst and the analysand with the goal of proliferating the analysand’s awareness of alternatives. Sometimes these feelings correspond to the strong emotions the poet experiences while writing. While observing and directing the thought process experiences of subjective and objective comprehension fuse and alternate, accelerating the mind towards associations of various types of meanings, intensities and emotions. Language demands to be said, heard, felt and comprehended all at once out of the sphere of choosing actions and immersed in the consciousness of its own tremors, intentions and implications. Like the poem, the free associative process goes from segment to segment with a continual sense of arbitrariness and complete choice.
Nick Piombino. L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E. FEBRUARY 1978