With that as our target, experimentand transformation appeared both in aspects of Romantic writing that werelargely subterranean and, even more surprisingly I thought, at the heart andcore of the Romantic project. An aspect of this, from my side at least, wasthat the Romantics and those we called the postRomantics began to feel likecontemporaries, less magisterial figures and more like fellow poets with whomwe could enter into a free and easy discourse. In large part, if this doesn’tsound too arcane or abstract, we rode on Jeffrey Robinson’s recovery of the“fancy,” salvaging it from Coleridge’s otherwise brilliant and long-lived dichotomyof fancy and imagination. The two terms – fancy and imagination – haveotherwise been historically synonymous, whereas Coleridge made imagination notjust the shaping spirit but a binding spirit that reconciled and thereby frozedeep conflicts of image and idea, in relation to which “the fancy” might now beviewed as a liberatory force – for play and invention – the field parexcellence of the experimental and visionary. I would then think of imaginationqua fancy less in Coleridge’s sense as reconciliation and closure than inKeats’s definition of “negative capability” followed immediately by hiscriticism of Coleridge” “Several things dovetailed in my mind and at once itstruck me what quality went to form a Man of Achievement especially in literatureand which Shakespeare possessed so enormously – I mean Negative Capability,that is when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts,without an irritable reaching after fact and reason – Coleridge for instancewould let go by a fine isolated verisimilitude caught from the penetralium ofmystery, from being incapable of remaining content with half knowledge.” OrWhitman in an equally famous passage: “Do I contradict myself? Very well then Icontradict myself, (I am large, I contain multitudes).” That being said, Iwould as well speak of imagination as of fancy, the good-of-it being, always,in the meanings, not in the nomenclature, and in any case, an inheritance fromthe Romantics with whom it all started.
I thought ofall this again in the process of working through a series of poems that I wascomposing alongside the major work of construction or assemblage that Robinsonand I were engaged in. The series inquestion (fifty poems in all) was my response to Goya’s Caprichos, a work of imagination or fancy that we included in Poems for the Millennium, both as atouchstone of an emerging Romanticism and as a forerunner of the expressionistand surrealist side of a modernism yet to be. The images that Goya gave me helped, as with other forms of ekphrasticwriting, to launch a succession of my own images and fancies, an interactionacross space and time that I’ve often tried to practice. In the opening poem, for example, I beginwith Goya’s well-known self portrait, a figure slumped over a table on whichare written the words “El sueñode la razon produce monstrous.” From that and from the bats and owls that flyaround him comes the following, not a literal account of Goya’s image but ajourney into places where the Fancy leads me on my own: