A slowing 3: Brave intimate body
The consolations of art are limited. As are we. It is supreme arrogance to imagine otherwise. We must, nonetheless, swell these limits, make them swollen to the point, even, of suffering. This is the consolation of art – messy consolation though it sounds. Simone Weil tells us, “It is an act of cowardice to seek from (or wish to give) the people we love any other consolation than that which works of art give us” (65). It is brave, then, to insist on attending acutely to that art – and the everything else it tries to get at – what is unsayable and yet worth attention. This work is the hard stuff of art.
The hard work of the mind considering its attention – its ethical demands – is poetry’s task. Tonya Foster’s poetry puts the reader to this work, asking:
What s/he know ‘bout
silence? How it settles in
a throat like s/wallow?
Who are we, who is it? How can these questions be asked? What is demanded of the readers? How is the throat moving in the body differently when we attend to the lines, the space after them?
How it settles like
swallowing water or seeds
they say might take root
How it settles like
feet into the dailyness
of their own falling.
The silence that settles is, here, in the clamor of Harlem, this intraacting with the public street and the intimate bedroom simultaneously, language in the world and in the mouth, the body and the mind and echoes of painting and voices and bullets and bodies, all not blurring but crisply happening, asserting being in its complexity. This section continues:
What she know ‘bout
be coming to mind at times
s/he thinks she don’t think:
how her throat tightens like a branch on which cataclysmic swallows roost.
How her throat tightens tracks, through slow syllables, memory’s algebra:
And we are prepared to slow down into the body the throated body, swallows on a branch and swallowing. Poetry tells us that language is not stable, it moves even as we read it, it is multiple meanings at once and we are in these at once, performing attention to being. As Barad helps illuminate, “Knowing entails differential responsiveness and accountability as part of a network of performances. Knowing is not a bounded or closed practice but an ongoing performance of the world” (149).
Don’t think the body
don’t think the body don’t think
by feeling its way
We cannot ignore the imperative-turned-statement-turned-haunting jingle. This is a poem that haunts. And what haunts becomes a relationship – the intraaction of accountability. To revisit Murdoch, “The refusal to attend may even induce a fictitious sense of freedom: I may as well toss a coin” (89). To attend is often the hard choice.
The illusion of art as facile entertainment simply because of the pleasures of beauty is an absurdity. And the pleasure of beauty in the turn of language in Foster’s poem is the allure of beauty. “Beauty captivates the flesh in order to obtain permission to pass right to the soul,” Weil tells us (148). If the thinking attentive eye is flesh – which it is and hard to know otherwise – then we must understand the work of beauty as mattering. Unless we would forego the soul.
Barad, Karen. Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning. Durham: Duke University Press, 2007.
Foster, Tonya M. A Swarm of Bees in High Court. Brooklyn: Belladonna, 2015.
Murdoch, Iris. The Sovereignty of Good. 1970. New York: Routledge, 2001.
Weil, Simone. Gravity and Grace. 1947. trans. Emma Crawford and Marion von der Ruhr. New York: Routledge, 2002.