Thinking here, these very intimate lines, this “slow grind of feeling,” that is a poem. Or as Buckley says, “in the slow grind toward feelings.” There are connections in this text. Connect the dots yourself, the reader is “forced to pause” as we all are, at bank machines, at the next thought. Again, the pages turn, the poet—for this is poetry is it not?—builds “bridges out of each grammar.” This is an inhabitable book, a warm voice, a curiosity that is not shimmering with polish, but shimmering with process:
Moments of narrative are presented that have an ambiguous relationship with each other…The narrative almost hangs together but it is also in a perpetual state of correction. The architecture of the city, the digressions of the narrative as well as the narrator’s ongoing never-finished conversation culminate in one long poem tht carries the echoes of the failed poems within it. Culminate might be the wrong word, as the failures of narrative are the very productions of the poem… (56).The poem as essay snaps at its own tale. Thinks itself forward. “I have this and much more to tell you,” our narrator says again and again. There is an urgency here that this reader responds to. This is not a book of singular poems. This is a book of stretching. Of inquiry. Of real emotional and intellectual risk: “Your glass face. Such that those small muscles around your moth and eyes shine quite specifically. It’s not so much that you said I should leave as it was this statue of a pool of shining water…” (62).
This reader is pleased with the sense of having her ear whispered into. The tumbles are not line breaks, they are lines reaching out, like some organic spreading. If poems are seasons this is spring, this is something very tender taking root. The difference, as Stein says, is spreading.
Nets, Jen Bervin
I have been working on a post concerning Jen Bervin’s Nets which is a poetics in way, of erasure, but more importantly a poetics of visibility, of making oneself visible in the great screen of literature and dialog about literature. This seems to me an essential element of a feminist poetic where women are still, at every turn, marginalized voices in public discourse—public poetics being perhaps one of the more perniciously conservative spaces in the contemporary world. This is not the case in textual representation—clearly women are publishing at a great rate. But are they being discussed? That’s quite another matter.
Making visible is not only a feminist intervention though. We had K. Silem Mohammad's interventions with Shakespeare's sonnets, and we've had Harryette Mullen's "Dim Lady," (okay, my students did not readers of LH, but I include it for you below). I do a class on sonnet interventions, but who can keep up? How many ways are there to reinvent the sonnet? To interact with Shakespeare's sonnets?
Here is Mullen's version of Sonnet 130 followed by the original.
My honeybunch's peepers are nothing like neon. Today's spe-
cial at Red Lobster is redder than her kisser. If Liquid paper is
white, her racks are institutional beige. If her mop were Slinkys,
dishwater Slinkys would grow on her noggin. I have seen table-
cloths in Shakey's Pizza Parlors, red and white, but no such pic-
nic colors do I see in her mug. And in some minty-fresh mouth-
washes there is more sweetness than in the garlic breeze my
main squeeze wheezes. I love to hear her rap, yet I'm aware that
Muzak has a hipper beat. I don't know any Marilyn Monroes.
My ball and chain is plain from head to toe. And yet, by gosh,
my scrumptious Twinkie has as much sex appeal for me as any
lanky model or platinum movie idol who's hyped beyond belief.
--Harryette Mullen from Sleeping With the Dictionary, Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002
My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun--
Coral is far more red than her lips' red--
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun--
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head:
I have seen roses damasked, red and white,
But no such rose see I in her cheeks,
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound.
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress when she walks treads on the ground.
And yet by heav'n I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare.
Now I want to tell you about Jen Bervin's Nets. For a little movie about Bervin's book check out this link from Webdelsol and you can find an essay on Bervin here. What Bervin does can be compared to heightening or rubbing away rather than writing through (a la Jackson Mac Low). It's a technique that I used in Teeth Marks--chiseling away the dull bits from a conventional narrative poem of my own to allow for a fragmented version of same poem to emerge. Here Bervin takes several dozen of Shakespeare's sonnets and rubs away at them revealing her own poems. The result is exquisite. Here is one of my favourites:
When I have seen by Time’s fell hand defacedThere are several others in Jacket magazine in a review by Philip Metres. I keep stalling this post for one reason or another--the latest being an incredible issue of The Capilano Review on the poetics of erasure (see below) that includes some work from Nets...
The rich proud cost of outworn buried age;
When sometime lofty towers I see down-razed,
And brass eternal slave to mortal rage;
When I have seen the hungry ocean gain
Advantage on the kingdom of the shore,
And the firm soil win of the watery main,
Increasing store with loss and loss with store;
When I have seen such interchange of state,
Or state itself confounded to decay;
Ruin hath taught me thus to ruminate
That Time will come and take my love away.
This thought is as a death which cannot choose
But weep to have that which it fears to lose.
The Capilano Review, 3.7
Not surprisingly Bervin appears in the recent TCR issue on the Poetics of Erasure with an essay by Clint Burnham. Poets include Erín Moure, Stephen Collis, Mary Ruefle, a.rawlings, Sarah Dowling, Derek beaulieu, Louis Cabri and others. Particularly fond of Collis’ offering from “365 Sonnets / Destroyed.” One such sonnet, titled, “Sonnet expressive of the creative process (into which doubt creeps) is a photograph of a sonnet written out on a piece of paper and then word by word, stapled or crossed out with a staple. The stapler at an angle on the top right of the page. These are fun, thought provoking, and beautiful (as is Collis’ The Commons, which I really need to comment on).
Rebecca Brown makes use of a novel Called The Mortal Storm which she paints out leaving the words she chooses to make her poem sequence titled “The Mortal.”
What child can be
healthy if a mother’s heart is against her man?
I have nothing against
girls—though life is hard for them, as you will find.
Taken out of context—the materiality of the text in which they were embedded, the lines don’t lose, but gain strength it seems to me. They are visual poems in the original making—the act of painting over and then engaging in collage unifies the poetic sequence, as does the poem that emerges:
GriefSimilar to Bervin's work, James Arthur's "Diatribes" make use of text by Al Franken. On a page of prose concerning "Whitewater, and the Clinton impeachement" we get:
bowed her head
her empty heart
whoBefore I could write a sentence I drafted poems by asking my siblings what a word meant and then cutting it out and adding it to my pile to be reconfigured. I don’t recall how I kept track of what the words were, but once I knew them and cut them out of the newspaper I could then shape them into whatever order or pattern I wanted. There were few books in our house, and magnetic poetry kits were yet to be invented. It was empowering to communicate through a physical, external medium, and as a pre-literate child I was longing for composition. I was already narrating my life, knowing I needed to articulate the many layers of feelings, the disconnect between what was said, and what was done; between how my mother perceived the world, and how my father did, how she described a situation and how I saw it, etc. Words were precious: saying them was not good enough. I needed to harvest them and rearrange. To that end I got caught lifting mail from a mailbox down the street. Perhaps I was looking for different pods of language? Intimate language? Direct mail language?
lied so much
can be trusted now.
did you know
? did you know
? did you know
duffel bags filled with coke
What is the difference between how we amass the vocabulary we will construct our texts with? What does it mean to be original? What is the difference between expanding one’s vocabulary and harvesting a word horde? This seems one of the crucial questions of contemporary poetics.
Jenny Boully, The Body: An Essay
A different kind of erasure, Boully literally erases "the poem" offering instead a process of thinking about poetry that becomes the poem in footnotes. Or, as Christian Bok suggests:
Like the Oulipian work Suburbia by Paul Fournel, a novel composed of nothing but its own apparatus and footnotes, The Body draws aesthetic attention to the peripheral topography of the page, analyzing the poetics of a neglected, miniature genre that often escapes scrutiny because its functionalism renders it too marginal or subaltern to warrant either artistic emphasis or literary analysis.The blank space above where we expect the "poems" to be, and by poems I mean what we visually encounter when we flip through the pages of Poetry Magazine *, for example, is at first shocking, but quickly becomes very, very soothing. We give ourselves up to the footnotes; we take in information not so much as Twitters, but as bon bons. They gather sweetly. The poem coalesces, or reassembles.
In the Boston Review Stephen Burt suggests the text is an "exploded memoir" or
a book-length prose poem, with bits (not much more) of narrative and essayistic analysis poking out through its attention-getting conceit: Boully’s poem consists wholly of footnotes, about 160 of them, arranged at the bottom of pages left blank at the top. “Everything that was said was said underneath,” note 1 explains, and as we continue we discover the concealed emotions and the retrospectively-articulate thoughts of a bookish young woman’s collegiate and post-collegiate years, including her studies in film and ancient Greek, her stage experience, and her potential affair with an older man.Gimicky? I don't think so. And in a world of poetics that seems now to have moved into a battle of single poem versus long poem, polished poem versus poem in process, thoughts tucked in versus thoughts untucked, these poets seem to be in the very thick of the conversation. Innovative yes, but not only. all three narrative voices are engaging, and even as they subvert narrative they pull the reader along, perhaps even too easily...at least that's how it feels after dipping in to Ariana Reines' The Cow. But that's up next week alongside Kimberly Johnson's new book, A Metaphorical God.
*Even as the magazine transforms before our eyes.