Commentaries - September 2011
The third issue of Melbourne magazine Steamer - edited by Sam Langer - features a number of one line poems: my favourite is 'rocker' by Will Druce: 'sssssstay onlike a roa deeeeeee afterrrrthash ow'. It could be drunk, it could be the beginning of 'Cherry Bomb'. Neologisms like 'onlike', 'roa' and 'afterrrrthash' suggest a mutating rocker vernacular that gets more interrrresting the more the rocker thinks about what they're saying.
Another poem from the issue, 'token' by Ella O'Keefe is one that knows it was written on a keyboard (as much as the hands may remember 'duck-egg formica'). It interrupts what becomes retrospective lyrical droning to jump up and want something a: 'Fresh!/Fruit!/Shake!'. Three exclamations suspended by the question of wondering ... Having energise the line and mood, new implausibilities may be murmured. We attend to mockery, then we're collaged onto a tarmac. Single quotes turn into double: a successful 'lawn-a-concept-centre' date then.
when a rooster crows
the whole body is used
& it puts you back
in your own
This could be O'Hara with clipped wings or Williams with the strength reversed to the end. If the first two lines read as likely Emma Lew chopped in half ('When a woman wishes to be cruel'), that is my ear perhaps more than O'Keefe's, but criticism's going on your nerve too. 'token' wants to throw so much away, to be casual, that I barely notice I have a bomb in my lap. Meditations, quotes, interpolations, phatic patterning: a way of constructing a 'place' of travel. It's more than travel affect in that it refuses to be a catalogue or sensibility or observation writ small: 'i.e. being in a place with a lotus/not evoking?'. Perhaps its a new version of 'Personism' with the poem between the poet and the laptop, Lucky Pierre Style? The poem moves from the performativity of the opening to a self-determined object to close: 'rain ... drops into pepsi bottle building/bridges with their straws/to the statue's fingers'. The everydayness of this poem can hold more than a travel diary. The rooster stands in for what was outside the body and is now in: in the artefact's body - in the reader's body. Like rain after coconut ice, it's as enchanting as you think it is.
Over at the Tinfish Editor’s Blog, Susan Schultz takes time today to summarize her extended visit to the Kelly Writers House. Here is a link to the entire reflection. Here, below, is the first section of her piece, which I'm pleased to pass along for its insights into the question of possible relations between the way we think about genocide and the way we think about dementia. Sounds outlandish but it begins to make sense, in my view, when one approaches either as a problem of memory and witness.
[I've just returned from what I fondly called The Dementia Tour. The Kelly Writers House gigs had been planned for nearly a year; I’d thought going to Philadelphia would make it easier to visit my mother in Virginia. But as it happened, my reading at the Writers House included a farewell to the long project about my mother, which became, more importantly, a farewell to her. And so I gave a reading, did a public interview with Al Filreis, and recorded a PoemTalk with Al, Leonard Schwartz, and Tom Devaney on a poem, “Eating Fried Chicken,” by Linh Dinh. After going to see my Cardinals beat the Phillies (though Al and I only heard the game as it was ending on the car radio, streaming St. Louis announcers into the bowels of Philadelphia), and spending time with a college friend and a couple of UNO pals, I went on the West Virginia University to give a talk on Alzheimer's writing, meet with grad students, and see old graduate school friends.]
That's the inventory. But what actually happened?
Al Filreis began our conversation by noting that I have written about the Cambodian genocide, and he began to connect that content to the Alzheimer's writing I've done that offers a testimony of witness to my mother's decline. But we adopted our son from Cambodia! I told Al.
Our friend Hongly Khuy was a survivor of the Khmer Rouge. He’s come to several of my classes to talk about his experiences. He traumatized that first class of freshmen, talking about what it's like nearly to starve to death, what it’s like to see a woman butchered to death for asking for more food (his laughter at the situation’s absurdity bothered the students most), how far one had to walk simply to get a few grains of rice. After a couple more such talks, he had grown much more gentle. He talked differently. Al distinguished between "deep memory" and "common memory." Deep memory occurs in the present tense, always. Common memory acquires a past tense verb, assumes a distance between the moment of trauma and the moment of story-telling. It's easier on the teller and his audience, but less “true” to the experience.
That didn't diminish the force of Al’s intuition about genocide and dementia. If there are national dementias, imposed from above, then the Holocaust was one of them, enabled by forgetting on a massive scale. The comparison comes at a slant, not directly. Alzheimer’s is nature’s evil, not humanity’s. The disease is not ethical, though our reactions to it are. But the force of Al’s comparison hit hardest when I sat in on his Holocaust literature class and his students discussed Aharon Appelfeld’'s Story of a Life, which I later read on my brand-spanking-new electronic device.
Much of Dementia Blog and what followed on this Tinfish Editor’s Blog happened not in “deep memory,” but in the “deep present” of confronting Alzheimer’s sufferers. Or it may be the “deep demented tense,” as it lives in an out-of-time that resembles the surreal in its reality. Appelfeld writes about stuttering. Do not tell the story because you cannot remember it, counsels the child who became the writer. Do not claim to master any language, because you have either lost those you spoke or failed to attain full command of the new language. A mother's loss is likewise the loss of her language, which was German. Hebrew was an imposition, one he molded into a lifetime of work. A mother's loss is the loss of her language into illness. I do not want to overplay the comparison (I spent years furious at Plath’s illness/Nazi metaphor), but reading Appelfeld’s memoir proved to be an amazing exercise in reading a poetics that works for Alzheimer’s writing, as well as Holocaust literature.
from Jacket #4 (1998)
How shall I articulate with what I hear? Not indulge an emotional reaction prompted in me nor assert the conceptual “grasp” which actually is a standing-back and leads to adopting a position, a self-testing consciousness which demeans its occasion. One way to engage is interlock through metaphor, but this too preens into consistency.
I shall resist the bad faith of consistency, or so I mused in closing down my applications, bestowing a good-weekend smile on my secretary, checking travelcard present and leaving an unprecedented twelve minutes before habitual time of departure. Yes, to resist consistency, but refrain too from flattering reality by granting it the variety it claims so flagrantly. I am open! I receive all tendencies! Set aside your received ideas! This is the CCCP embrace; but I who idled six years on the Cam's banks permit myself a weary smile. Nothing over-pronounced.
For the heterogeneity itself represents a reassuring consistency — the consistency of CCCP. But the middle-aged are sensitive to change in old haunts, and this year change was discernible. Had the animadversions of Messrs Evans and Moxley in their admirable Dictionary of Received Ideas drawn a little blood? There were signs of organisation — frustrated gestures perhaps; but starting with a little brochure of considered design and for Cambridge improvident with information.
It was therefore with something approaching (but certainly not bearding) confidence that I approached the Chetwynd Room at Kings College, mis-en-scène of the weekend's entertainment, via the only student bar in Cambridge where young women of fashion may be noticed. Later I was to be introduced to one seeming carved from alabaster and in clothes so undisturbable that I was not surprised to learn she was a philosopher.
The Chetwynd Room is two rooms, the anteroom this year detaining the confederates at both the bookstall presided over by Mr Peter Riley (who resembles a Victorian genre painting of “The Antiquary”) and more remarkably at an exhibition of Mr Tom Raworth's lifetime achievements in poetry, design, printing, publishing and collage - housed in museum exhibition cases of formidable scale and labelled as eruditely as any collection of Roman oil lamps. This exhibition marked the great and greatly loved poet's sixtieth birthday, and aptly. It was accompanied by a commendable catalogue including an academic essay culled from Mr Simon Perill's doctoral thesis, and an introductory note and cod biography of the poet distinguished by a wit which brings to mind a bullpit terrier executing an immaculate pas ciseaux. Additionally there was a commemorative card featuring poetic works by Messrs Ward and Wilkinson and distorted likenesses of the poet. Enough! Our subject should properly be the ephemeral, the performative.
For the benefit of the antipodean or the Mancunian, I should note that the Cambridge Conference of Contemporary Poetry is not a conference. This does not make it two conferences as the Chetwynd room is two rooms; it is a conference accidentally, being actually a sequence of poetry readings. Since English poetic culture has yet — I observe — to be compromised by the prospect of academic tenure which makes Usanian poets shy at an alcoholic beverage, conferring takes place as a by-product of 1) drinking, 2) the absence of Mr Stephen Rodefer and 3) the presence of Mr Ben Watson and Mr Andrew Duncan.
[Read the entire article.]
As I've noted here before, Tony Green (of New Zealand) makes poetry objects. One I admire particularly is called "loopy almost." In a Facebook video (2 minutes in length) posted once, he shows the object, describes it, and reads it/reads off of it. Here's your link to the Facebook video. And here are some other related videos by Green.