On a question of genre

A hard spell. More than a bit PTSDy after my surgery – anxiety waves, wanting to cry lots, panic in the grocery store. Halloween freaked me the fuck out, roving packs in darkened streets and shouts and bangs at all sides.

The trauma’s been here many years, but hasn’t surfaced like this in a while … all the work I’ve done, it’s done some good. But maybe no surprise a minor surgery (hernia repair) brought it back? A knife’s an insult the body knows of, unconsciousness or no, and frozen there, can do nothing about. And this knife in especial was working not very far, in Mitchell’s translation of Rilke’s of Apollo’s of original fire, from that dark centre where procreation flared.

A line from ago I never used and suddenly remember: “Shouts in the street were pieces of me in the mouths of dogs.”

Rousseau had it, I’m sure of it.

[A] word to speak, the least trifle to perform, appear an intolerable labor; everything alarms and terrifies me; the very buzzing of a fly makes me tremble. (Confessions)

This morning I went to the Farmers’ Market and saw Rich and Kendall, also Sean, a former student, and chatting was nice, good. I was looking for herbs to plant in my newly landscaped (or still landscaping) front yard but found instead some apple cider and a chocolate croissant. This afternoon I went to the grocery store and got a flu shot and an anxiety pulse. Tomorrow I’ll drive out to Cloud Mountain Farm and look again for herbs, also fruit trees, apple, plum, frost peach.

My workouts have become meditation by other means – access to inward, when I’m otherwise too distracted or resistant to tune in. So it’s good to be back on the treadmill. Not running, yet, but walking hard up a steep pitch, hard enough for a heartmind opening.

Today it was this. (And tears came in a jag. Which no one can see, nor will anyone, even, if a sob comes loose. Workout a perfected disguise.) There’s a core wound. You can hold it as what’s given to you to hold. Or you can keep living out of it and creating craziness.

This post is actually about a question of genre. Because I can write about this stuff, directly, apparently, in a blog post. And it’s not impermissible either in nonfiction, in memoir. A bit edgy, maybe, but hardly forbidden. But in poetry … no, you can’t do that in poetry, put it in an image, please.

Don’t want it in an image. Want the banal exposed awkward inarticulacy with which it came to me. Because that’s my subject. So fuck peach blossoms and fuck the objective correlative. Here’s what I wrote in my journal when I got home –

journal scrap 3

– and here’s the notecard I did, yes, transpose it to:

The notecards, yes, are simulacra.

I look about in vain for precedents. Loads of treacly banal sentiment dumps in verse, sure. But I mean legit artistic practices drawing straight from how you speak to yourself about your own feelings and what you do with them and they with you. George Oppen makes concrete poetic objects out of carefully configured abstract surfaces set at colluding angles –

The sad marvels;

Of this was told
A tale of our wickedness.
It is not our wickedness.

– but his concerns are moral and ontological not psychological (“The self is no mystery …”). In many of Frank Bidart’s poems the speaker wrestles semi-articulately with a tormented inner life –

An adult’s forgiveness of his parents
born out of increasing age and empathy

which really forgives nothing,—
but is loathing, rage, revenge,

yet forgiveness as well—;

– but the poem gets its charge from the distance cut open by a persona.

Is what I want, direct speech of and from an emotional life without resort to irony or persona, just inadmissible in poetry? Why permissible in memoir, but not in poetry, when in so many other respects, they’re known to overlap? And where lives the voice, anyway, that says impermissible?

I wonder how I’ll feel about my little notecard when a few days have passed.

I can say this. It belongs, in intent, to Overject as a whole, which means to translate every feature it can of its source text, a minor didactic Old English poem, into the current moment. For that poem is, I have come to feel sure, a trauma document, full to brim with opacities, deferrals, fractures, hapless power moves, inadvertent tender disclosures.

This too I’ll say, writing it has mattered, as writing about it has mattered.

Before you decide my little notecard belongs in the dustbin of banalities, read it for the thoughts and feelings between its phrases and clauses. Those are the ones I took the most care to articulate.

Marlise’s portfolio

Friends. (Oppen said something like, the poem that ends as it should, “ok,” the poem of the world. Tonight for me, it’s the post that begins as it should, “friends.”) I’ve meant to share with you a portfolio by one of my vis po students from this spring. She rides a badass wheelchair and her work is images of and round and beyond her condition, Friedreich’s Ataxia, a truly shitty degenerative neuro-muscular disorder.

I don’t mean to be sentimental here. That’s cheap to those who live with a disability. From here it seems, there are some who live with such visible cruelties, I’m using Marlise’s so apt word here, and others who bear cruelties invisible to all until they flame out horrible, and some who have the bad luck to be lucky till they’re not, and then they know not what the fuck to do.

Even all that considered though. This young woman has moved me no small measure with her guts and her mischievous gleam. So, here are, with her permission and a bit of anonymizing, some words and images of hers.

“One of my passions, my goals, and perhaps my purposes, is to help arts by and/or about the physically-disabled population to gain at least culturally standard recognition. This course has made me see visual poetry as a wonderful and effective forum to achieve this.

Portfolio-3“In creating my pieces, I was most inspired by our course text Nox, by Anne Carson. She delivers poignant messages about grief through photocopies of memorabilia about or featuring her late brother, while still leaving the concepts of familial love and loss open-ended and undefined.

Portfolio-5“Being physically disabled myself, I often think of myself and my as audience members, just insignificant observers of my disease’s progression, effects, and affects. This ‘outsider’ perspective is what I interpret as Carson’s purpose and message behind Nox, and it’s what I have striven to elicit for disability in this project.

Portfolio-2“I’ve explored the photocopy technique, implementing forms of handwritten pieces and material objects. Attempting to play with my method of choice in new ways, I photocopied in the ‘negative’ setting a couple of times to convey the stark labels put in visibly-disabled people, Another way I twisted the work via the photocopier was selection of reflective objects to photocopy.

“The first artifact displays the title of my disorder, Friedreich’s Ataxia (FA), through a bag that has one transparent side and one opaque, turquoise side. I chose this to hold the piece because I knew the photocopier because I knew the photocopier would reflect off the bag, and the resulting glare I wanted to evoke the unapologetic cruelty of my handicap.

Portfolio-1“Also, I thought the bright turquoise backing worked as representation of the crippling sadness or unashamed joy underlying nearly every part of disabled life. The writing is done in charcoal, and then smudged, translated to be the destruction of effort. Where I placed the artifact in the photocopier cut off the top fails-at-drawing-a-straight-line of th F, leaving a single, straggling line reminiscent of lives cut short by means of physical disability, including mine. Finally, I inserted the page into its sleeve upside-down to distance and simultaneously inconvenience the viewer, like disability effects everyone involved in the victim’s life.

Portfolio-4“As a visual element, I will steer the viewer’s attention to the cover art. There I have my prescription-medication bottles, showcasing the nameplate-labels. Not only do I associate paid-for treatment with disability, but I see this photocopy of personal and yet widely recognizable objects as the prime subject to introduce this portfolio, too. It compartmentalizes disability, and also starts the project’s accessible journey of disabled interpretation.”


POSTSCRIPT. The cellophane technique I’ve been playing with BTW is thanks to Marlise, who on a handwritten poem assignment took my encouragement to view her handwriting as differently beautiful and handed this in –

Handwriting 3a

– but because the charcoal was bleary handed it in, considerately, in a plastic bag, which gave me an idea, so when I scanned it I scanned it in said plastic, with all those unanticipable opacities –

Handwriting 3b

Whoever says teaching creative writing sucks from their creative work needs to check what they’re teaching.

Student blog: Copy Cat

Another student blog for you this fine summery morning: photocopier collages of various and sundries. Laundry unfolded or undone, mix tapes unspooled, unstrung. Like the blog just before this, a sort of love song to the overlooked, our detritus.

Brief my remarks, this time round, as I’ve to go teach in a few. Just go check it out, you’ll have a blast.

Oh but I can’t help connecting to Oppen, his “Of Being Numerous“:


There are things
We live among ‘and to see them
Is to know ourselves’.

Occurrence, a part
Of an infinite series,
The sad marvels;

Of this was told
A tale of our wickedness.
It is not our wickedness.

‘You remember that old town we went to, and we sat in the ruined window, and we tried to imagine that we belonged to those times—It is dead and it is not dead, and you cannot imagine either its life or its death; the earth speaks and the salamander speaks, the Spring comes and only obscures it—’

I’d speak for the connections but why speak for connections that speak of themselves.

Stray thought

What I aspire to, a poem with no trace of untruth in it, and’s still poem and golden, and who’d have thought it, one in the New Yorker of all GD places gets me to the thought of it, and by an old friend no less, long lost touch with, but remembered in gladness.

Let’s see if I can link to it online, spare us all me retyping it … yes! Mónica de la Torre, “View from a Folding Chair.” Do please enjoy. I haven’t followed Mónica’s work, must now, on this evidence an inheritor to Oppen, lowly things recuperated, & a secular holiness.

Into the life of things

Wandering on Google+ came to a brief sensitive reading of George Oppen by Anil Bawa-Cavia, of whom I haven’t heard, relayed by Miggy Angel, of whom ditto.

That’s my bad, head in Sumerian sands and all. Hope to read more of both as we seem to have some in common. It begins —

George Oppen was a poet of matter. Of stuff itself. Dealing in the opacity of things, the impenetrability of materials, the tangible complexity of the world.

Omission as an expression of the unresolved. The conflicts to be admitted in objects.

— and completes here. There’s Heidegger in there, and Merleau-Ponty, but worn lightly, thankfully.

What if thing were not a dirty word.

What if matter were, as its etymology implies, mother of us all.

Which, duh, it is, but what if we took that to heart.

That beautiful man, made light, made matter, made light —


“The New Thing”

A link to Stephen Burt’s essay on the “new thing” poetry. Or the new “thing poetry.” Need to reread it, but what I remember is, how grateful I am to find a name for what I’ve thought to be up to.

He sets as an epigraph a favourite passage by a favourite poet.

The self is no mystery, the mystery is
That there is something for us to
stand on.
– George Oppen, “World, World —”

Oh and just for funs, since I’m about to head back down to Samish for the last of Norman Fischer’s dharma talks, let’s put Oppen beside Dogen.

To study the Buddha Way is to study the self.
To study the self is to forget the self.
To forget the self is to be realized by the ten thousand things.
– Eihei Dogen

Grasses trees and broken bricks reach out to wake you up.