Articles - April 2012

Poetic representations of the holocaust

Poetic engagements with the Holocaust must overcome the argument that language cannot portray the inhumanity of the Nazis’ actions. Poetry must challenge its traditionally humanist pose in order to respond to the dehumanizing Shoah. Poetry can either concentrate on the highly personal — which runs the risk of reducing the scale of the events — touching the reader with the retelling of individual testimony, or it can try and reform language to find a new means of expressing the inexpressible.

Heimrad Bäcker (1925–2003) renounced his former membership of the Hitler Youth and the Nazi Party after World War II. He spent the remainder of his life as a poet, editor, and intellectual as a means of confronting his own involvement in how the Nazis used language itself as a means of propagating the Holocaust. Bäcker was a member of the Hitler Youth’s Press and Photography Office before he worked as editor of the Austrian avant-garde press Neue Texte. His Hitler Youth employment exposed him to the anaesthetized prose of the Nazi’s intricate documentation of their Final Solution.

Theodor Adorno’s dictum that all poetry after Auschwitz is immoral embodies the crisis of poetics following the Holocaust. How is European poetry to situate itself? In the Holocaust much literature was as defiled as the authors who had written it; poetry and prose were brought to unwitting service of a culture’s destruction. With Nachschrift (1986) Bäcker poetically argues that the best way to engage with the language of the Holocaust is to present it baldly, without editorializing and without personal intercession. Nachschrift is finally available in English translation as transcript (Dalkey Archive, 2010, translated by Patrick Greaney and Vincent Kling).

transcript is a collection of page after mostly empty page, interrupted by brief, aphoristic (strictly documented) quotations from internal Nazi memoranda, private letters and reports presented in the banal, toneless language of bureaucracy. Bäcker referred to his style as dokumentarische dichtung (documentary poetry) and where he revised the original text, every detail is acknowledged in eerie echo of the precision of the source authors.

Bäcker created transcript without knowledge of Charles Reznikoff’s Holocaust (1975). Reznikoff used a similar compositional strategy but drew from survival testimony at the Eichmann and Nuremberg trials. Both books are bereft of traditionally poetic language. Reznikoff ’s, however, mines testimony for the stuff of poetry — prosaic sentences with poetic line breaks that testify to traumatic experience. Bäcker rejects the testimony in favor of the corporate, but transcript is as emotionally engaging as any humanist confession. The vast majority of transcript could be excerpted from any obsessively documented corporation pleading for increased shipments where “the times on the train schedule correspond to the hours of the day 0-24” (28) when “it is very difficult at the moment to keep the liquidation figure at the level maintained up to now” (52).

As a forerunner of contemporary conceptual poetry, transcript displays how potent and emotional the corporate can be — and how language simultaneously veil and unveils. Bäcker’s involvement in the Nazi party is implicitly the subject of transcript. His sentence is the Sisyphean task of sifting and resifting banal primary documentation in search of the poetic in the unspeakable.

Never without

On Diane Ward

The Los Angeles River. Photo by Diane Ward.

Never without (or) a sensible world, a sentence (or) here
we move in constant this (or) so life is a word

*

Diane Ward —
On Duke Ellington’s Birthday / np / nd
Trop-I-Dom / Jawbone / 1977
The Light American / Jawbone / 1979
Theory of Emotion / Segue Foundation & O Press / 1979
YES / As Is/So & So / 1983
Never Without One / Roof / 1984
Being Another — Locating In the World / A*bacus / 1986
Relation / Roof / 1989
Crossing / A*bacus / 1990
Imaginary Movie / Potes & Poets / 1992
Human Ceiling / Roof / 1995
Portraits & Maps / ML & NLF / 2000
Portrait As If Through My Own Voice / Margin to Margin /2001
When You Awake / Portable Press at Yo-Yo Labs / 2006
Flim-Yoked Scrim / SSSSSSS / 2006
No List (no list) / Seeing Eye Books / 2008
untitled collaboration between Jane Sprague, Diane Ward, Tina Darragh / Belladonna / 2009

A sharp incidence of the personal. Always sharpened / honed / forced (forced) to tell (forced to tell).

But here the personal is elegiac. The ancient Greeks / where a person could keep-time with a person (or with another person) and (and) with the gods. And where / from time-to-time (instance to instance) that god might be an other person.

This is the inverted other / the other that is the self. One’s / own / self.

It is by a maximum of one’s-knowing-of-one’s-self / of her (her) of her self (of her self).

Such that to be a self (any / one / self) is to begin / and to begin again.

           Everything rolls to find its own conclusion — everything rolls in order to find its own temporary (its own temporary) conclusion. Words roll.

*

The world already has synaesthesia in it. The world already has lacunae in it. To recognize them / to give them a place in words — that is what this poetry does. Along with the ephemeral and the essential nodes of the (of any) day.

The smallest things can seem sensual and discrete. The smallest things can seem sensuous and discrete. Can be (be (can be)) sensuous and discrete.

Yet nothing exists outside the mind. Yet nothing (yet nothing of the eye-sort) exists outside the mind’s-eye.

In Diane’s language it is made discreet. So bold / so apparent / so honest and truthful / so so (really) / that in Diane’s language it is all made discreet.

It’s hard to hold any-single-poem in the mind alone. In that sense (in-that-sense-in-and-among-others) the poem is outside the mind (way (?) outside the mind) / and the poem sings its way between. The poem mediates between us and the world — (I suppose that’s been apparent for a long (for a-long-long) time.

The words surround the other words / so that (it’s in that way that) the whole poem grows / and (so) cannot possibly (cannot possibly) be a thing within the mind.

And in the telling a-something is created that we then want to move into and in and through / in a way so-as-to-come-to-be-there-too (so-as to understand / to grow).

                                                                 Air begins to plow outside as
brightness comes into focus & still & in the room a gray
mostly loudness of recognition. Movement means a place to
move from: a heavy gray that won’t erase. A thick line that
won’t erase.

Each of her poems is (we feel) a piece of research. In that way it (neatly) avoids what might have been otherwise merely-confessional (I’m writing this here to forestall anyone’s half-reading leading to the otherwise). Wake up. Diane is waking you up. This is a frightful bit-of-freshness going-around-here / finding-out what-it-itself is / is not. In ways that make the language freshly-moved-over / fervently-uncovered / far-from-the-merely-quotidian (the-merely-mundane). A distinction isn’t easy to unmake.

The language is made to be exaggerated — that’s how it contains. Diane’s lines always seem to be fixing themselves / to be in-the-process-of-getting-it-right (of making-it) / such that rightness is (after-all) trueness to that line itself. Lines of thought / replete with feeling — such that the two are occasioned / are occasioned to be not-two. Thought/feeling = feeling/thought — that kind of way of thinking-(about)-it.

Everything begins with a noun.

A noun is a verb.

Sometimes this adds up (in a chunk (in a chunk of words)) to what’s-almost-a-novel / or like a good bit-of-something out of Shikibu or Shonagon (Diane’s peers). In-other-words / you could take instructions from these words / and sort-of-act-them-out (you could make them be you). And that’s an accomplishment that few have demanded / and that fewer may claim.

*

Poetry is a way of thinking.

In that way it preceded metaphysics.

Poetry (I’m writing about what-I’m-reading) sort of moves the person through space / and then that movement is (the-making-of) that poem.

The words come-to-have-meaning in the-process-of-the-person-writing-coming-to-be-that-person. The-music-of-the-poem is what-the-person-overhears-(themselves-making)-as-they-become-the-person-making-that-poem. It’s all singular — everything is singular (not spread-out (as with some other poets)). I’m the confiscated tactile agent of / reductive aesthetics.

We all become our own memory / given enough time. That’s all that’s left of us / when we die. [ I don’t mean the-memories-that-others-have-of-us — I mean that we turn into our own (own (our own)) memories / and that is what happens when we die. ] Poets do this all-the-time / (earlier) / when they write. It can be a graceful thing / such-a-graceful-thing-to-behold (to be held-by).

Going into one of Diane’s poems / and then coming back out of it / is (like) going into a breath (into a breath (into one breath)) and then coming back out of it (back out of the breath). It’s (like) breathing.

It’s just time passing / even if it is poetry that’s filling it up. Time to rub them out. Time / considers what gets close & rubs them out. Time is an affect — poetry is an effect. Take that.

Diane makes us look each object / each action — in-the-face. She insists on it. Then you can read the next word — then you get to read the next word. The next line. The next work. Like that.

It’s like with photographs of a person (one’s self (self)) the big thing is attitude — that’s what makes the photo stick. It’s the same with Diane’s poems / except that here (except that there) the photographs are the poems and the things are the words and phrases / and it’s the attitude that makes that (that (that makes that)) stick (stick (that makes that stick)).

In this way (in these ways) the words (come to) build over and on (onto (and onto)) themselves / waves coming at and on a beach (and who / can / tell / which / act / apart? from which). Miniscule amounts of thought make big words move over the page — and out-of-it-all (and out of it all) come the interstices and the interjections and the inter-lacings that (later) make us act. Poetry changes the way we act.

           She details the space with words. So the space won’t forget. The words stick — they’re made to stick — that gives them a plastic sort-of-presence (the same sort-of-presence that made them be there (here)).
           Her words are peculiarly complete in-the-way-she-does-this (in-the-way-she’s-done-this). They stand as a marker for-that-action (so what’s new?) / but in a-strident-sort-of-way / meaning that they are redolent with her personality (which the-words describe). They are gentle-and-tender but also ardent-and-tough — they don’t mask anything — they create the world in which they find their-own-fulfillment — they cough — they live outright in front of you — they go on — they come back — they are sweet (but-they-cannot-be-taken-advantage-of) — they are strong (and will withstand repeated-dustings). Diane isn’t the-way-that-she-is as-a-result-of-saying-it — she is what she is as (as (she is what she is as (as))) saying it (as saying it).  
           This language is not a code for something else. A code for something else. This language is not something else. This language is this language.
           [ You would think that you could say that about all writing. ]
           Diane’s presence comes out of the work.

                                                                                           You spent those
first three weeks in bed alone & the next decade recovering.
You had a five year view from the window. You had
history at your heels.

*

Diane’s words are evidence of Diane’s unvarying (and unwavering) attention. They are evidence of her attention to the details (and to the-details-as-words) of her lived life.

This attention gives-rise-to sorts of information (about what we call the-world) —

Tomorrow gets familiar soon. Andy Warhol uses Marilyn Monroe’s lips to illustrate mob rule. Loneliness is cumulative. Surplus desolation increases desire to the point of surplus desire one you can stare into for hours.

Little intentional forays into (via) attention / and coming back (sometimes “bloodied” no-doubt) / with the goods (information-to-live-by).

The poetry then (the-forms-of-the-poetry) is about how long these things all took / is about registering (accurately (it goes without saying)) how long these things took / what they felt like / where there were apertures and the like / textures of things and experiences / the way things work / fit together / and (again) how long the bits of this experiencing took (this is where line breaks e.g. come from (come in)).

Words overlap (over lap) sometimes / so that phrases are unnecessary (in the sense of phrases-being-made-separate-one-from-another) / so that instead the sense of the thing can kind-of-run-on — meaning does (does (meaning does)) get-away-from-us at times (which helps us keep it / not lose it). And chunks of language are used to show us how-those-chunks-relate-to-the-world — they’re built up / they build up — and the chunks survive as evidence of all that motion (they contain within-them words-that-contain-all-that-motion).

The words come alive — they’re the actors in a play. The words are alive / so that this-writing-them comes them alive again (on top of / in) that aliveness (an algebraic insistence of life upon life). So that gradually (and then less-rather-than-more-gradually) the words come alive as life — and they act.

A writing-like-this is a sharp inducement to change.
           What-kind-of-change? To change this kind of writing / to let this-kind-of-writing be the-kind-that-changes-itself (all-the-time).
           To do one thing and one thing only. To do one-thing and one-thing-only. That is not to do two things. To do one-thing-and-one-thing-only. This writing is the instance of its own feeling / its own way-of-being-in-the-world (as (as) feeling (as feeling)).
           Diane’s writing conveys the affection she feels for her writing’s words. reversed estrangement

*

Diane’s writing (this (this “this”)) is a kind-of givenness. Not that it is given (the-given) / (as-opposed-to-that-which-can-not-be-taken-for-granted) — it is its own givenness.

It is given by Diane.

A slice-off-the-ordinary (the quotidian) is taken / and given up / as such. And / as more than that / it abides.

Each moment is shared. A kind-of-quietness. Each moment of the-writing. As-such / and / not-as-such. In that way / nothing is given.

She sweeps the world clear-of-what-doesn’t-matter / with each word that does.

I might recommend
a stay away from ghosts that love you
                                                             representations
of incomplete mistakes.
                                              I might have been maudlin for
you.
I probably will, my mannerisms attest. You cut easy,
                                           great figure, no longer mind.
I wake up alone think of you and I feel worn.

I back into this (kind of) language / hoping to find there the-kind-of-language-that-will-sustain-me-there — and I find it.

It’s so strong it aches.

She has so-much-to-say that the language can hardly contain it. It swells with that. It speaks / out. Free-of-itself / for that-moment — but (in-that-way) never free-of-us. Diane’s language speaks us.

The voice bears down (a wrench / tightening).

And the words come on / quick-as-verbs. All-of-them (quick as verbs).

The world begins to conform to writing that’s this strong.

The mind thinks emotions. Emotions think the mind. There’s no lateral-hand-off that doesn’t have a feeling in it / that isn’t replete with feelings. Feelings come over the top / a word at a time.

A statement doesn’t have to be long.

Diane’s writing takes place inside space — the space of the city / the space of rooms / the space(s) between people / the-spaces-we-carry-around-inside-ourselves.
           Grammar is a kind of space (too). There’s ample evidence Diane is aware of that.
           Everything has a mind of its own.

*

Everything grows into everything else. The language places this beside and then/or into and/or through that — these things being the things the language makes happen (some of them are nouns — some of them are like-nouns — some of them are other-parts-of-speech (some-of-which-are-parting) — some of them are elusive-language-moves (some of which have other-elusive-language-moves in-them)).

It’s as if all-the-experiences-are-thrown-up-into-the-air and come-down-as-words — in that way they have a-kind-of-geography as they chart the-architecture-of-the-space — they’re grand / and elusive / at the same time. And then the words are propped up / using-with-and-against other words — so that they create new (new) architectures in new (new) geometries of the mind’s-spaces-and-times (on the page).


The 2009 Los Angeles Station Fire. Photo by Diane Ward.

These are real words — they live in real spaces — you can see them with your real eyes. I mean they’re out there and they occupy space / and that’s how they get-to-you. And in that these all occur over time / they make a kind of novel (a kind of novel space in your mind).

Where the word which wasn’t interesting belongs as redefinition.
Where speed replaces the idea and becomes it.
Internal is categorically beautiful bombing as we expected them
whole sentences erupt up and fall.
Headlong, concrete piece by concrete piece a sight or irrational pleasure.
Heading away to detail and immediacy.
Another form is untouchable and moves a cage into softness.
A wooden syntax of shadow forms a pillar of its own.
A highly syntax confusing both image and word and detail and notation.
A shape which is rounded off so that corners fall away.
Blank and another ordering attention paying off.
Blank intensity stares.

The words promise that we will have to face ourselves. It’s a confrontation that’s being made / in-that-Diane’s-lived-(written)-by-confronting-herself. So this begets a-kind-of-eagerness / but nothing that goes too fast. The words are staid — they stay (put).

Ideas come in the form of words. So / alright — we already know that. So we have to manufacture more-words (more-ideas) to protect ourselves. There’s a war going on. It’s made up of words.

Diane’s response is to confront (all) this head-on / usually with a great deal of gentleness. Gentleness is her strength — and her-saying-so is how-we-get-to-know-it. Her-saying-so also helps us — it helps us all survive all-of-that. The war of the words.

Thinking (and writing and feeling) occurs over time — and this is really-just-a-definition-(a-partial-definition)-of-time. It’s thinking and writing and feeling that make time — they make time happen / they occur-over-time / they make time be. Grammar is the lived-way-this-happens.

Reading Diane’s writing / the mind becomes attuned to it / and in-such-a-way-that-it-anticipates-(it-begins-to-anticipate)-it. A word will form in the mind of the reader / and bling! / there-it-is. A world will form in-the-mind-of-the-reader / and bling! / there it is. This is an indication that the writing is thinking-itself-going-forward / that it is in-this-way (creating (that it is in this way creating)) itself (itself-being-itself-becoming itself). This is also an indication that the writing is creating the reading.    

All of her writing questions living.

All of her writing questions are living.

Diane’s writing project is inclusive / exhaustive. It makes out of words the kinds of details that other peoples (naturalistic novelists e.g.) made out of images (of visual-facts-piled-on-facts). The difference (it-being-done-with-words) is one of degree (for-the-most-part) — things are delegated their particularity / they’re made to stand in-with-and-among other-such-things / and that particularity swells to completeness (to a-kind-of-on-going-completeness (i.e. never done (done (never complete)))). Thorough.

But it’s done (in-a-way) by taking time out of it / by taking time out-of-what-happens / and then (in the writing) by putting it back-in (as grammar) — it’s done in the grammar (of the event (of the-writing-event)).

Maybe this will clarify what I mean.        
           Sometimes stories emerge — sometimes stories (actually) emerge. And some of them have the obduracy of fact we’ve come to expect from-that —

Once a man fell asleep in his lover’s closet, obsessed with the smell and feel of the empty clothes.

And then there are the ones (and-there-are-a-lot-of-them) where the words are (appropriately) the-actors-in-the-scenes —

A story: one eleven year tear goes unmentioned, one French phrase rolled around in the mind goes unsaid, finally a tiny figure in the clear confusion of middle ground goes away.

Nothing is left undone.

Of course there was nothing to-be-done in-the-first-place. That’s why it had to be done. No one else could have done it. No one else did.

Afterwards this woman exploded because of what she hadn’t said.

*

Diane’s beautiful essay / Being Another — Locating in the World / relates for us the actions involved for her (by her) in the creating of the world of her writing. Those actions involve perceptions / (in fact) they begin with perceptions / and with an-awareness-of-those-perceptions / and with an-awareness-of-beginning-in-an-awareness-of-those-perceptions. Then the mind makes thinking-feeling / and words / and the work. The primacy of perception in her thinking-explanation is similar to the status accorded it by Merleau-Ponty (in-particular-among-the-phenomenologists). It also has things closely-in-common with Buddhist psychology’s explanation of perception-phenomena — there are / the thing perceived / the perceiving organ / the perceiving sense (that-which-controls-the-organ-and-mediates-between-it-and-the-mind) / (and) there is the mind — these things go-together-to-make perception-of-phenomena possible (with the absence of any one of them / there is no perception / and (in-a-very-real-sense) no phenomena (either)).

She also writes here repeatedly about the object / the-object-of-the-perception that becomes the-object-of-the-writing — and sometimes she uses the figure of a sphere to represent (to substantiate) that object — in-this-way she shows us that she goes-back-to Plato-and-to-his-forms / that writing is a way out of the cave.

I’m not suggesting that Diane owes a debt to these other thinkers / and certainly not that-they-are-needed-in-any-way-as-a-frame-for-her-ideas. But / accepting-them-as-simply-there-(off-to-the-side-(as-it-were)) / we might also want to consider Berkeley / whose statement to be is to be perceived might more-accurately-find-a-home-among-Diane’s-words-as to-be-is-to-perceive. His ideas about the relative nature of perceived-reality / and his Essay Towards a New Theory of Vision both bear fruitful consideration in relation to the-ideas-that-Diane’s-writing-puts-forth.

Her essay should be read in its entirety. I will quote some-substantial-chunks-of-it to give a sense of its breadth / its motion(s) / and its substance.

           I wonder where I am, I’m without any object. I’m alone, without another, in the selfishness of solitude, the power of solitude. From here, to see is to control. To choose sight is to choose a picture, a frame placed in neat relation to my face giving it substance, meaning. The feet, knees, and organs don’t see this, they are victims of sight. My sight becomes an assault on the world, the world is whatever I see.
           Carefully, I eliminate everything, each word, then each possible meaning of each word, until I have what I want. I choose to control all the words I’ve employed. I choose this word to indicate that, this to indicate this, I ignore the worlds absolution, contentment, July because they’re not in my world. These have nothing to do with a view from a window. This isn’t urban writing, though it could be. Tomorrow, in five minutes, absolution, contentment, and July may exist for me, be fitted neatly into the world of what I’m writing. I’m not writing something that’s necessarily artificial — because it will never again exist like this or because it will change. For the moment whatever I imagine, whatever I include, is real, time being controlled. 
           …
           Breathe, so you can breathe again. I bother to look, to represent, to describe, to react in writing. I want this to occur again, I want to write again. To do, so it may point to what I don’t know, I’ve never thought possible, what I don’t understand. I’m writing the most imperfect text, it seems to go against what I admire, my aspirations, what I know to be correct, to “work”. But things happen. It becomes logical in its own right, in a way I didn’t anticipate. It has a will, it must be mine, an undeniable will to perpetuate and evolve. I’ve somehow made it exist, I’ve felt its presence and then articulated it.           …
           As I write this, I rely on an order to present itself. I’ve ordered and reordered material fractured from other sources so I may get to this point, the starting point. I will name this and presumably it will have qualities that justify its name. New relationships will begin to present themselves, will sneak in, even will themselves in. The order I seek to identify may pass me by, sail over my head, elude my words. This writing may remain, to my understanding, disorderly, nonsensical; I’ll abandon it as unsuccessful. If I’m inattentive, if I don’t recognize where I am, where my words are, then I fail.
           …
           Nothing remains the same, not my body, not my work, body of work.
           …
           The object may have nothing to do with me. I subject it to scrutiny, criticism from the possibilities I recognize within me. I stop, integrity belongs to both objects, it and me. Not able to be with it, not able to get inside it, to become it except in a superficial and false way. We’re always apart; I examine it from outside, from where I am, compared to what I am, my weight to its weight.
           In the absence of other minds, I force myself into conversational contortions. I contain them actually or potentially. My ability to understand allows me to explore, to place myself in several different positions: that of my social self, my private self, my desirous self — that is, the self I desire to exist. And further, my social self is at times telling jokes, at times demanding payment for work; my private self is variously at ease or in turmoil; I see my potential self at times clearly and at other times vaguely or with many faults. These other selves are my objects in writing. I use these objects metaphorically; that is, they’re not for me exclusively to possess but for the world I write in and about to possess, to become or reject, most importantly to examine, to allow to exist.
           …
           Each time, I create something new, maybe something less successful, even these self-defined failures are an addition, an improvement on my understanding, my ability to choose. The creative act itself perpetually becomes new and so changes its relation to whatever I’ve written, whatever I’ve read before. This new relationship between what I do when I write (considerations) and what I write (resolution) changes continually
           …
           First, primary, thought is feeling; second, an explanation of feeling.
           …
           This isn’t automatic writing, it’s not something that “goes through” me, I’m not its vessel. I feel excited and purposeful, I also feel a little sloppy.
           …
           I see only a detail of the object. What its entire, complete shape is, I can only imagine. Whether I can imagine, picture, its wholeness is something I think about. The possibilities of knowing the whole through only a small glimpse of a part, are endless and dependant upon my imagination, my ability to suspend or expand truths, to imagine where the object’s detail could lead, what it could indicate.
           …
           I’m responsible for what I see. I’m responsible now for the object’s reputation and representation. I’ve committed myself to its welfare, I’m sympathetic to it. I must not feel destructive, or if I do, I mustn’t confuse my urge with the object’s existence. I must remain committed to feeling and a true rendering of feeling. If I see the object as threatening to me, to my world, if it contradicts what I understand as ‘correct,’ I must continually examine the ‘new’ object that asserts itself, its affect on me, the ‘new’ me, our new relationship. Then I’ll rearrange accordingly.
           …
           I must know exactly how I affect my world and how the world affects me.

I’m being generous to myself (with myself) in-quoting-from-her-essay-at-this-length / because it is so-beautiful-an-addition to those-words-that-come-otherwise-from-my-self. At the same time / Diane’s essay is a-critique-of-all-that-I’m-(myself)-writing-about-her-writing — I hope I am making it clear that if you could just read Diane’s essay that would be enough / my words could then go away / could then do something else. This is what-I-have-to-offer.

*

When reading / thoughts about it come (as if) from elsewhere — the key.

The reality is the it / the-it-that’s-being-read. That it — not this it. That-it turns into this-it / a sort of aside in the passage of life / the-passage-that-we-refer-to-as-forward-(forward-(as-forward)). And it’s all (it’s all (and it’s all)) done with words.

This all means that few words must do the-work-of-many-words / that will remain (that will-to-remain).

lore of other, knife-scored night
given forever, no tranquil edge in sight

collusion’s conformity, petals
wrapped tight, form itself

I, fumbled in speech, embody shadow,
deface a self, out-of-body in love

guarded wealth lines the street — Go Home
fingers, page, turbo greeded gaze

And sometimes (some times) it takes a long time — which means that we all get slowed down a bit / that we all have to learn to take it slow (before we stop). A few words take place over a long time — this is just-another-way-of-saying-that only what must be said must be said.

A neologism isn’t a new word — it’s a new world. And that’s just because sometimes-you-get-to-a-place-where-something-new-has-to-be-said (where-some-new-world-demands-to-be-said). And the rhythming-motions of creating-lines is just that / is part-of-the-way-of-making-that-happen.

To the extent that a poetic text is difficult / that difficulty is a promised contract with the reader / stating that the-reading-of-that-text will be worth it. This is a contract which Diane always keeps.

Often it has to do with the (a) body’s posture in space — the poem is the articulation of that stance into sound. In this way (in this slight way?) what-could-have-been-left-unsaid / isn’t. Writing is always the residue of a body.

Often there’s an elegiac tone. Obviously what’s-spoken is already-passed (what’s-written / as-well). So how can we not feel that longing that that entails? We cannot / not.

And always to say anything (to-say-anything) involves a terrible holding back (holding-back (a-terrible-holding-back)) / in that so much is (somehow) (almost miraculously) being prevented from being said (being-prevented-from-being-said). This restraint can seem coy / but it is meek. This then is its potential (this restraint is).

Leaving things out means a quickening-up. The poems thus teach us to leap-about over and past the lines (at times) / such that even when the lines move slowly (are (all-but) nailed-down) / still they can demand that we move quickly from them (from-one-to-another) in a way that we move through them. This is a common effect in these poems — we are its affect.

Limit

at the end of delight, one
who or that which revolves

more than chests have
to heave “… where gold,

dirt, and blood flow
together”! : margins

the family, not personal
fallibility leads

to instrumentality
in self-restraint

the scale of dignity
has no tears, and yet

I have no elevated
language for the moving

staircase, its components
denying to begin and to end 

relentless and no language
for my body that jerks short

every floor submits ardently
physicality is me

We might learn from this / and state / that — it is the tense balance between quick moving over the poem and slow moving through the poem / that gives the poem its meanings (its multiple meanings).

[ A principal aim of this kind of writing (Alan’s) / this critical notice of what’s-already-been-written / is simply that it not-interfere-with-what’s-already-there. When it is complete(d) / it should provide an-uninterrupted-view-of-the-text / rather as-if-we-were-looking-down-a-(eg)-cylinder at the text (a cylinder that neither magnifies nor diminishes / nor-does-it-in-any-other-way-distort). ]

[ The words that I’m writing / and the words that Diane wrote / are all about Diane — but in different ways. Diane’s words give a-picture-of-Diane directly (“directly”) as Diane is seeing-herself-in-and-as-writing. My words are at-one-remove-from-that / they give a-picture-of-Diane-(indirectly)-as-she-is-seeing-herself-in-and-as-writing. My words are appropriated (from-her-experience) in a way that her words are not. So what is the use of my words — what is their purpose? Enthusiasm? Enthusiasm — perhaps nothing more (nothing more) than that (perhaps-nothing-more-than-that). ]

*

Much of Diane’s writing has to do with the-relationships-between-people / and with how-an-individual-responds-to-that — it has to do with feeling. She shows how sometimes the-feeling-goes-from-the-outside-(out-there)-in / and how sometimes it goes-from-the-inside-(in-here)-out — she also shows us that these two tracks (these two tentative tracks) of feeling sometimes converge / and sometimes emerge one-and-the-same / that feeling is what we live in (in (that-feeling-is-what-we-live-in)) — and then she goes on from there.  


Hills near Tejon Pass, Southern California. Photo by Diane Ward.

Chunks of her writing are then sometimes (like) quick-takes-of-that / up-close-examination-of-the-quotidian-felt (the-not-so-out-of-the-ordinary-way-of-being-in-the-midst-of-feeling-things that makes us special (in-a-way)). These are feelings that have leached out of the space we inhabit — they contain us. Or is it leeched?

Affection viewed as affectation / and affectation as such — for example. We swim in a swamp of these misgivings (much of the time (I think)) / and Diane is showing them to us in the-nakedness-of-the-words-that-inhabit-them and in the-nakedness-of-the-words-that-they-inhabit — this is just sometimes / it’s not always like that. Feelings are used to glue the silences together / and also to open them up. In this way words work. Words suggest things / and Diane uses those-suggestions to show us in-the-way-how-words-work and-feelings-with-them (feelings right along with them).

*

A lot of poetry has to do with slowing-down (and (sometimes) with speeding-up) the language. The foot is on the treadle.

Always it is about what is meant. At least that is the way of things here / with Diane’s work.

When we’re reading we’re waiting to see what happens. That’s a large part of the experience of reading. In fiction the-what-happens has to do with narrative and plot and action and events-of-those-sorts. In poetry / the-what-happens is the next word. And the one after that. And the one after that. And-the-one-after-that.
           In this sense / in poetry it has more to do with the-spaces-around-the words / and in prose it has more to do with the-spaces-within-the-words. But in other senses / that-would-have-to-be-reconsidered.

Diane is perhaps-most-concerned-with the-person-inside-and-about-all-that. She is concerned with the person’s clothing. She is concerned with the person’s human-relationships. And sometimes she is concerned with the-architectural-spaces (rooms-and-all-that) in which all of that takes place. She has the painter’s concern for (with) space (with spaces).

Human life creates a scene. She’s concerned with that.

It has to do also with how-she-sees-these-things / how the perceptions enter-into-the-world (how-we-might-experience-it-like-that) / come-into-contact-with-the-world / and take-from-the-world-those-things-that-then-become-living-as-thoughts-and-feelings. In this way here writing is always at-the-same-time philosophical / about how-we-know-the-world / about the-limits-of-that-as-possibility / and about how-doing-that-becomes-us (us as instance).   

*

Poetry is a bodily function.

Diane often makes pictures of that. She makes brief-pictures-of-that-happening.

[ People sometimes argue (a-couple-of-people-about-whose-work-I’ve-written have argued) that my essay about their work could have been written about anybody’s-work. But I think that any thoughts given-rise-to by-the-work-one-is-reading are at least tangential to that work / and tell us something-significant about it. This text is in-dialogue-with-Diane’s work — and when you are reading it / it is in-dialogue-with-you-too / so that a multilogue erupts — and all that is written there / and all that is read there / is significant-in-and-with-relation-to all those things (beings) that are now conversing. ]

The mind (thoughts-&-feelings) goes into the poem / and comes out changed. That is why how-to-make-the-poem is a moral choice.

Diane’s poetry puts the reader where she is.

*

Sometimes the words seem to irradiate around a-thing-not-specified / (perhaps) a thing not (even) present. That thing would be what we would call the-subject-of-the-poem / but here it is more accurately an object (a place-holder for an object). It is (usually) an object of sense.

In cases like this the lines-of-the-poem can perform as a list. Each line refers back to that subject (to that-object) / while still going-about-its-“assigned”-business (the business of being that (that (of being that)) line (the business of being-that-line)). The lines then have-a-kind-of-strength where they begin / where they (as-it-were) stand out from (what-we-might-designate) a stalk — they swing out of that (they often swing clear (clear (swing clear)) of that) — (and) from there they go on. The meaning is then cumulative (being-arrived-at by the ongoing-downness-of-the-poem) as well as being flung out and away-from that-particular-downward-line-of-the-poem — these two conciliatory but abject (I mean being moved-away-from (left alone)) motions of the poem create a vortex that is perhaps (then) the-poem’s-real-meaning.

Diane’s poems impress themselves on you (upon you). The words are an impress — they bear the mark of her attention / and they bear that down on (upon) you. You are the impress of Diane’s poems.

Sometimes the words take back the words — that means that the words are tending-in-one-(in-some)-direction / and that is visible to you (the reader) / and then they shift and go off somewhere else / because they have been smitten by other words. Each poem is a language finding itself. Again / as gain (or is it as loss?).

*

Poetry precedes what it’s about. What it’s about comes later.

If there’s no about / then the whole thing quickens / becomes immediate / doesn’t-go-off-to-anywhere-else. Diane’s poetry is like this.

Everything makes a difference as-to-how-the-writing-comes-out — the writer specializes in these differences. They’re not really differences / they’re more like distinctions.

Other than being there, the images are of women. Women have mouths, eyes, some have two feet and hold pain closer by gazing upon it at arm’s length and in the narrative they speak to it and coddle it until it becomes really internalized, enlarging the definition of reflection. I have seen this as an act of self-denial and also of self for the purpose of discovering something unknown.

Writing takes things out of the alphabet — it uses them — it puts them back. Out of the glossary. The-glossary-of-all-available-words / plus-new-words — are these then two glossaries or one? Plus changed words? Two glossaries or three? Obviously each individual is the glossary their world makes of them / and then they (the writing individual / Diane) take that back-into-the-world. The world of language is neither inside of us nor outside of us. The world is neither inside of us nor outside of us. That is where it is (is (that is where it is)).

Often Diane is using the language to move people around / in it. This is what narrative does (in part) / and what Diane does is (in part) what-narrative-does. In her case / the language that she uses to do that is heightened by the-verve-and-stuff-she-imparts-to-it (in ways that narrative languages are quite (most) often not) / so that the people are almost flung-up-into-the-air (we might say) / they’re flung-up-into-the-air-of-the-languages-(of-all-the-available-languages). The people get kind-of-washed by the language (by all-that-language). You can see (easily-enough) that I’m having (that I find-that-I’m-having) to resort to metaphors to convey the ways the language has of handling the peoples in it.

Often the fact of being female has to be foregrounded / the power-struggles in (any?) relationship. Even the title / Portrait As If Through My Own Voice / lets us begin (makes-us-begin) to think about that — otherwise / why As If? The language has to (has-to-be-made-to) find a place in it (in its self) for the female as equal to the male — and wouldn’t it be good if we no longer had to even think about all-that? / just being. Diane’s language often tends toward that — it tends toward making that happen / recognizing that it has to ((has to) that it has to) happen (that it has to happen) in the language (where else?). It would be wonderful if everyone could simply-be-safe-to-be-who-they-are / but the language (as-it-is) isn’t letting that happen — the language is still owned by the men / with their male gods / and their male wars / and their men-are-better-than-women thinking embedded-in-them (as-in-the-language) / and all of that / going-on-and-on. The language has to fight back (has to fight that) / and here it does.

Finally he roared, “what are you really trying to say?” but it was tragic, it was inaudible. It was Stage I at last and she was stretching toward the floor, her head’s hair entangled in her eyelashes, in her studio. Lighting wired at every level so no doubt could escape its place within drowsiness. I’m fine, able to stand up, my needs are hanging from every corner of the man-made room, in high, high definition. It wasn’t just a question of how much more room Alfred Hitchcock took up than me. It was how to put myself between my child and the all powerful mind-meldiness of the Channel. Or whether that mattered, distraction being nine-tenths of the dream.

Change has to be narrated — that’s how it happens (that’s how it (largely) happens). We change the meanings of the words / the reality changes / all definitions being between things. It’s how-we-see-the-world makes the world. It goes on. It can’t go on.

Or in an image —

I thought earthquake
but it was a bird’s wings against a cage
movement with nowhere to go
against metal wire
or metal wire unable to allow movement
wire against air and us, our container

Or in this / said broadside / and at —

with no name, we’re not meant to be talking.

Saying that women have to fight to be heard (the volume level the ultimate definition) is not a figure of speech — it is an action which Diane’s writing begins to take (for-all-of-us).

*

Everything seems to be sliding off toward oblivion — that’s the way it is here (sometimes) in Diane’s world. Prose (her prose) takes us there faster sometimes — that’s the way it is in Diane’s poetry. It all comes-out-faster / but in a way to slow you down (too) so that you-notice-the-motes-of-time-drifting-off-from-the-tip-of-her-tongue. She finds herself in-her-writing (who-of-us doesn’t / or doesn’t-want-to (anyway)) / but in her case sometimes it’s a self in the way of being lost (that’s found) / and sometimes the self just-stays-right-there and you (you / reader) keep on being the one going on around it (as-you-read). Those are some of the ways that can be.

It’s as if she’s always-learning-something. It’s as-if-it’s-that-way because that’s-the-way-it-is. You can viscerally feel Diane learning things (about herself (say)) as you read her-writing-her-poems. She writes them that way.

It’s a present oblivion (though) that things-are-always-seeming-to-be-sliding-off-toward. It’s always very-much-the-present where things are happening in these poems / where-these-poems-are-happening. They make you stay present — they keep you present to it.

*

The writing comes burdened with a great deal of compassion.

It’s a matter of time. Over time / this compassion accrues in-and-through-and-as the words — they then take over time (and that is compassion).

There is a tone sometimes of almost-waggish-lecturing / as if she is speaking at the world / reminding it of its commonplaces / and asking it why. Why? Indeed. In deed.

It’s a matter of working backwards over the-way-things-were. Of bringing them to life like that / of making sense the datum of sensation / and sensation the fact of existence. From there it goes on / and on / like that.

What are the options? They’re explored in and as language / always backed with (by) a feeling of kindness / that being the sensate (sensational) stance-taken-toward-the-world-(toward-the-lived-world).

The words always open out into a kind of space / a-kind-of-space-the-words-create. But there is a kind of space there (too) that-was-there-before-the-words-were-(got)-there — that is the space of lived timelessness / and Diane is more-than-merely-adroit at explaining (at giving) it to you. You are in your space.

And everywhere / she’s fraught with conscience. Conscience is how time-plays-out as it’s passing (as it’s passed) through space (through spaces). It’s a kind of narrative blunder (really) / but it’s the-kind-of-narrative-blunder-that-cares (that cares-for-you). Take care.

The place where this occurs is relatively dense. Relative to what? — relative to places where other-sorts-of-things (but not this-sort-of-thing) take place. In other words / this writing does not exist in other words.

*

All writing exists between people (persons) / one-way-or-another. Diane’s writing really existed between-people before that — it comes from between people / from what happens between people / and from what-happens-between-people happening to a person (Diane / the writer).

Things are held together by almost-geometrical-forces — people are held together within and by vectors / lines that move in-relation-to-one-another / that stop / and that make points where people happen (where-people-happen-to-other-people). A lot of this kind of energy is what-goes-into-Diane’s-poems.

to be peopled-out
means to drift
outside the scale of touch
existence in which each side is different


pin-pricks and — drops
love levels outpace themselves
the echo reaches all the way up
just below the sand


that leaves us:
the space beyond the brush’s tip
so sound blows back
to catch all the pieces

So that space is a question the language answers (so that space is a question the language answers to (to (a question the language answers to))).

The words are always placed with delicacy — the words are always placed-with-great-delicacy (this is (remains) true even when they are most firmly places (which they most-often-always-are). Likewise (i.e. like-unto-that-delicacy) the words often have soft spots in them (within them) / places that are (that read-as) almost moist. The writing is like-nothing-so-much as the body that writes it.   

*

Taken away as-such the writing begins to float before our regard. After our-regard / the writing floats / away. With / in / us. The writings (as-such) / us / is our-regard / floats (away).

It stays.


23 March 2011