In conversation, Glen Armstrong sometimes refers to this or that poem as a “strange little machine” and, among others, I think of Dickinson. Some poets protest against the idea of their efforts being algorithms at work but it needn’t be an insult to attribute creativity to machinations. With the right sort of machine and program running, one’ll have practically infinite variability in outcome. “Nature” in: odd, lovely, machination out.
That’s how Dickinson works. One could almost call it an “empirical” activity. Nature, plus an awareness of “the” literature, in: riffs and variations from there. I think of Whitman in this context, too, where the riffs become waves and the variations attempt to set us off into new territory. Nature and literature get run through their minds and we end up with some fortunate inventions.
And by invention here I like to go back to what’s summed up in the old rhetorical word “inventio”, which people tell me can be translated from the Latin to English as either “invention” or “discovery”. The ambiguity is an advantage here because it points to something that’s neither fabricated out of nothing nor completely given. Rather, the result of inventio is partially constructed, not unlike they way we’ve found out memory works. Our brains too are strange little machines. -bbc