A few years ago, reading through issues of the now-defunct Sentence: A Journal of Prose Poetics started me thinking about the prose poem in terms of difference between Canada and the United States. As much overlap as our two countries have, the evolution of the nebulously-termed “prose poetry” has been different, and yet, at least on this side of the border, the form hasn’t been (for what I’ve been able to find) much explored in terms of possibility, genealogy and influence. Back in May 2012, as a prelude to composing a possible essay to explore the subject, I sent out an email to a variety of individuals, and even a couple of list-serves, seeking information:
I’m reading about hearing loss, and creative use of hearing and listening, in essays in Beauty is a Verb, ed. by Jennifer Bartlett, Sheila Black, and Michael Northen (a must-read book!). Thinking about how all hearing is probably mis-hearing, and all movement from one source to another (poem in head to poem on page, poem from poet to poem in book by publisher, poem read in book to poem in reader's head, poem uttered in reading to poem heard in reading) involves evolution, change. Laurie Clements Lambeth, in her essay “Reshaping the Outline,” in this book, speaks of this with grace and clarity, including the creative potential of such transmission, or, if you like, mistransmission.
I find myself reading Norma Cole's essay in the book, “Why I am Not a Translator II,” and echoing its words as I go, according to thoughts I'm developing about the book's (in a large sense) openness and impermanance, maybe the idea's openness and impermanence. From this point, until and not including the last line, I have taken excerpts from Norma Cole's writing, including that essay, and the following poem, also included in Beauty is a Verb, titled “Speech Production Themes and Variations,” and those excerpts appear first, not in parentheses, with my echoing of them following in parentheses.
Word-seeds. Sphota. ( ideas seeds flax paper book )
one has ideas before one has words to say them. . . . No tabula rasa. ( the book is always pre-content )
I’m back, with apologies for the long absence. The bad news is that I had to take a month break from these Commentaries due to a minor but temporarily disabling health issue, that pretty much knocked me out of commission, for anything but the day job. The good news is that I’m healed, my “tenure”here has been extended, and I'll be posting these Commentaries through November.
Last fall, on my trip across the country (mostly by rail) to visit the park spaces designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, I worked in a visit to one of the poets most readily associated with American space (though not urban space), Gary Snyder, at his residence high above the Yuba River, Kitkitdizze. I have yet to document that conversation (we spoke, amongst other things, of Gary’s experience bivouacking in Central Park in the late ’forties, while awaiting his seaman’s papers), which will happen, when I get around to it, on the Olmsted blog. After I left Gary, I stopped just on the other side of the Yuba River, to check out something called the Independence Trail. It turns out that the trail — occupying the site of old, abandoned hydraulic miner’s ditch — was built in answer to a request to, “Please find me a level wilderness trail where I can reach out and touch the wildflowers from my wheel chair.” It is a mostly level trail, shaded by oak and pine, that contours the slope of the undeniably wild Yuba River valley, with views to the river below. At the time, I did not know that this trail, the “First Wheelchair Accessible Wilderness Trail in America,” had been created by one John Olmsted, a distant relative of Frederick Law. J. Olmsted worked to save hundreds of acres in what is now the South Yuba River State Park, as well as what is now Jug Handle State Nature Reserve on the Pacific Coast in Mendocino County, Goat Mountain in the Coastal Range, and the Yuba Powerhouse Ranch. He wanted to create a “Cross California Ecological Trail.” Walking his Independence Trail helped me realize, yet again, how limited my conception of wilderness can be.