poet's novel

Pina Bausch & Clairice Lispector

The poet's novel

Pina Bausch in "Cafe Müller"
Pina Bausch in "Cafe Müller"

When realism isn’t real, where is a writer to go?  Meaning, the sentence is a construction which feels at least as habitable as the bus which carries a poet to an unfamiliar town, and the couch upon which the poet sleeps later that night.  When realism isn’t enough, isn’t authenticated or represents a fractional or purely outward series of events, poets turn to the body of the sentence upon which to recline, repose, deconstruct and reject any sort of frame which insists upon the “real” being limited to finite perceptions.  A sentence may break, with the force of bodily gesture, something more fluid. When I think of the poet’s novel I think of an oblique truthfulness.  The choreography of Pina Bausch comes to mind, as an example of art which echoes  the interior and bodily aspects of the real.  What is the difference between realism and the real? 

A conversation with Aaron Kunin

The poet's novel

Laynie Browne: Recently a show at the Morgan Library in New York City celebrated the 1913 publication of the first of the seven volumes of Swan’s Way. Here one could see some of Proust’s original handwritten manuscripts and notebooks, some of which have never left Paris. In one notebook, considering his book in progress he writes:  “Should it be a novel, a philosophical essay, am I a novelist?”

In your novel The Mandarin, the question is potently raised in various ways, who is a novelist? What is a novel? I wonder if you could comment on this.

Lydia Davis

The poet's novel

In “Composition as Explanation” Gertrude Stein writes: “The only thing that is different from one time to another is what is seen and what is seen depends upon how everybody is doing everything.” [1].

Lydia Davis is a writer who is a great influence and inspiration to “everyone,” when everyone includes readers of experimental fiction as well as a myriad of poets “doing everything.”

Etel Adnan's Paris, When It’s Naked

The poet's novel

A novel in which the subject is Paris.  A collage novel.  A list novel.  A novel of various forms of hopefulness and despair. 

“We’re moving towards something that does not exist.  The voyage is infinite. The passenger is not.” [1].

Where has Adnan taken the form of the novel, as a poet of many countries and languages?  She has chosen place for character. She has chosen Paris, all of Paris.  Her gaze penetrates the beauty and limitations.  She does not ignore Paris as “the heart of a lingering colonial power.”  She has taken the reader not only to the streets of Paris, but to the skies, and to the passing thoughts of the relocated Parisian who writes through circumstances, concerns, observations. 

“Some rare evenings, the glow is so strong that pink hue, an after hue, an illumination made of color and fire, seeps between the buildings, these evenings which are an illumination for the whole body, not only the eyes.”  [2].

That no other persons come into focus for more than a moment creates an experimental cinematic sense of the city.  We are lured toward  not merely a visual surface but a detailed map of luminosities and gravities

Duras & the cinematic novel

The poet's novel

The first thing you might notice about The Malady of Death is the visual components to this book. It is slim, only sixty pages of text, like many volumes of poems. On each page the font size is larger than most large-print editions of books. I measure the opening capitol “Y” beginning “You” at one-half  of a centimeter. The page that appears the fullest contains one-hundred and sixteen words. A page appearing one of the sparest contains sixty words.  Section breaks appear as multiple paragraph breaks, a multitude of white space, and an occasional asterisk.

A conversation with Bhanu Kapil

The poet's novel

Laynie Browne: Is there such a thing as the poet’s novel?

Bhanu Kapil: The poet’s brain changes, perhaps in mid-life.  Perhaps the poet moves from one part of the country to another.  The poet turns to the sentence as the place where questions of magnetism, gravity and light — the forces that bind a person to the earth and then release them, abruptly — might most fully be worked out.  Why?  On a scrap of paper, I draw three overlapping rough arcs.  These are sentences.  These are vectors, complicated — in this preliminary sketch —by refraction and shame: the reality of what happens — does happen — has happened — at the limit of a nation state.  Sometimes, as I’ve thought about elsewhere, a person doesn't get to cross.  A person sees their body reflected, perhaps, in the gelation membrane that extends above and just beyond the border like an invisible dome. To exit you rupture.  What the novel-shaped space lets the poet do (perhaps) is work out what happens both before and afterwards: the approach to that multi-valent perimeter [the shredded plastic on the floor.]

Incubation: A Space for Monsters by Bhanu Kapil

The poet's novel

When I think of Incubation A Space for Monsters, I think of the form of the list, and how Kapil has transplanted this form so common to poetry into the form of the novel. 

We think through lists, live them, annotate and move through time non-sequentially as we insert our prerogatives into lists. With each iteration on a list, as we enact it, who do we become?

“The secret pleasure of refusing to live like a normal person in a dress/with a sex drive and fingers/dreamy yet stabilized in the café of languages” [1].

Incubation A Space for Monsters, is a book akin to movement as a form of identity. The movement is many-directional. A character, Laloo, is literally moving. She is in transit via hitchhiking, which means in a sense that she has no idea which direction she will move.  Her body is spliced, part “monster” part “baby” part “cyborg” part “dream.”  She is moving in the direction of female identity, an identity between borders, between safety and risk, between any fixed notion of intimacy and the question — how to be a person intact?

Discussing the poet’s novel with Dan Beachy-Quick

image from W.G. Sebald's The Rings of Saturn

Laynie Browne: Is there such a thing as a “poet’s novel”?  If so, how would you characterize the form?

Dan Beachy-Quick: I do think there is such a thing, though I don’t think it’s any one thing. The simplest answer would be a novel that a poet writes, but I think we all feel that such a measurement fails. I suppose in my thinking I consider a “poet’s novel” one that bears a certain kind of relation to itself, a relation that parallels a poem’s relation to itself. Such a novel may or may not have a stake in plot, but such narrative drive feels to me an accident of a deeper investigation, one which can only be conducted by the novel being written. Such a book asks a question that can only be asked within the world it creates, as Melville must include within Moby-Dick that information, that encyclopedia, that makes a whaler of any reader of the book.

H.D.'s "HERmione"

The poet's novel

H.D.

“A person should think before they call a place Slyvannia” [1]

This sentence from H.D.’s HERrmione stays with me.  Her prose can twirl, as Her Gart, her “heroine” is lost in a landscape she desperately tries to discern. Her “Oread”  is here before considering the sea. Her Gart twirls in search of herself.  So what makes this a “poet’s novel” beyond the fact that it has been written by a poet?

Habitable sentences of the poet's novel

Books by Peter Waterhouse & Lyn Hejinian

Lyn Hejinan writes in The Book of A Thousand Eyes:

“The bed is made of sentences which present themselves as what they are
Some soft, some hardly logical, some broken off
Sentences granting freedom to memories and sights” [1]

If a bed is made of sentences, then we take rest, converse with the unconscious, locate freedom, the intimate, night, dark, gestational silence, the forming of images and ideas — all within what can be built from an assortment of varied sentences.  Sentences become our increment, lumber, and leisure.

Lisa Robertson writes in her recent book, Nilling, “The most temporary membranes serve as shelter.”[2]

What is it about the sentence that encourages one to stretch out? 

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