“Arcanum” by William Logan

As soon as I see the word arcanum in any proposition, I begin to suspect it.


Like Hegel’s cows, chewing in the final dark
of reason, a domestic passion lies within
the salus of a language. Writing

is a privacy. I seal up that child of silence;
it turns its blank, dull face
to the world, and names a proper name.

On that adequate screen, the overcast sky,
what alphabets are traced? Scratchings
of trees, miserable spirals of chased birds,

homely parallels of planes. A writing
that seizes its own erasure, altering
the world it vanishes from. So

the homely alphabet: presence within distance,
ignorant messenger. Writing cannot
comprehend the lineaments of message.

Deaf to its own urgings, it outraces
presence, arriving before beginning,
always already the father of itself.

And the child of a silence, a feminine blank
that is famine and plenitude. Inscription
defaces the black monument of the word,

carving into an originary emptiness
an awful geography, after which all boundaries,
are known, all geologies discovered,

all nature transcribed, though its landmarks
face outward, blind to the world.
The features name and are not named.


This arrived recently on our desk in a new collection of Logan’s early poems, from the most interesting Salt Publishing. Salt sprang from a literary journal founded in Australia by poet John Kinsella, wandered to a village outside Cambridge, and is now edited by a board of poets and regional literary specialists spread around the world. This poem first appeared in 1982, in one of the beautiful chapbooks published back in the day by printer/publisher David Godine, reproduced now in Deception Island: Selected Early Poems, 1974-1999.

William Logan has published eight books of poetry and five of essays and reviews, many of them scathing. The Undiscovered Country won the National Book Critics Circle Award in Criticism. He teaches at the University of Florida and lives in Gainesville, Florida, and Cambridge, England. His review of the new edition of T. S. Eliot’s letters appeared in last week’s New York Times Book Review. A new poem by Logan will appear shortly in Little Star #3.


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