By Stephen Morrissey
The Montreal Journal of Poetics, spring-summer 1979
Richard Sommer's Left Hand Mind inquires into the isolation of the individual. The nature of this isolation is psychological. The intellect gives us "the safe old pain of being "inside", it is painful and yet one feels secure with the pain, the known; one experiences it as being "self aware of self aware of self self self". This is the central aspect of our awareness, our extreme self-consciousness—the only continuum in our fragmented lives.
Supposedly by writing with the left hand, as these poems were, one allows the intuitive & less intellectual right hemisphere of the brain to be heard. Whether or not one accepts the theory the poetry is, I feel, some of Richard's most satisfying. The conceptual reference of the work seems to preclude the intrusion of the intellect in the form of heavy-handed editing and shaping the poems to some preconceived form. In itself there is obviously nothing wrong with the intellect however, when the intellect takes prominence in one's work then the work is hurt, it becomes lopsided, and Pound's statement that "only emotion endures" is certainly negated.
There is a different voice present in Left Hand Mind than in Richard's other work; it speaks from the heart, not the intellect, it reveals the poet, it does not obscure or hide. The book gives us what all good art gives, a closer examination of existence, of life. This is an existence-centred writing—it springs directly from the self-experiencing "pain" which "is apartness pain which is space".
Perhaps there is no longer "experimental" writing, altho I would suggest that there is & that Left Hand Mind is a good example of the experiment succeeding. It succeeds because-it gives the reader what he needs: a movement away from academic intellectual poetry, some honest words, some real emotion. Finally it provides an essential that "experimental" poetry must have if it is not to be phoney or artificial, it begins to formulate responses to life that are not predetermined, but are based in perception, in acting and not re-acting. It suggests values and meanings in our life at a time when these are at a premium.
We live in the mind & the mind is only a fragment of existence just as language and thought is only a fragment. To extend to either an exaggerated importance, in art, is a form of suicide for the artist. Any experimentation based solely in language & the Intellect & cut off from the concerns of the self in its isolation from other people, necessarily results in a fragmentary & intellectual poetry, by extension it is both conservative and reductive. A truly revolutionary poetry deals in this problem of the self -existence, the isolation of the individual, the question of "why do I exist & who am I?"
The central metaphor of Left Hand Mind is the mind itself, the- single voice speaking from a deeper space in the mind, the space where poetry and meditation become one. I would suggest that a closer examination of all of Richard's work would reveal a protracted life-long concern and investigation of this problem of isolation. The mind has created a dualistic world, & yet the dualism is merely a metaphor created by the mind, & thus an illusion; however, we now feel the illusion to be reality. Either one understands the mind, inquires into it with humility & care, so that the left mind merges with the right and mind, finally, merges with "no-mind" (if such a thing exists or is possible), or we will "disappear into the mind entirely".
Copyright © 2007 The author