Writing 'The Structure of Escape': The Linearity of the Arc
By Murat Nemet-Nejat
Poet, translator and essayist Murat Nemet-Nejat’s most recent work includes the poem The Spiritual Life of Replicants (Talisman House, 2011), the translation of the Turkish poet Seyhan Erozçelik’s Rosestrikes and Coffee Grinds (Talisman House, 2010), and the memoir/essay “Istanbul Noir” (in Istanbul: Metamorphoses in an Imperial City, Talisman House, 2011). Nemet-Nejat’s translation of the Turkish poet Birhan Keskin’s book Y’ol (Ro(a)de) will be published in 2012. He is currently working on “Things,” part VI of the seven-part poem, “The Structure of Escape,” of which The Spiritual Life of Replicants is part V.
On January 31, 2012, Murat visited the Kelly Writers House and read, in part, from The Spiritual Life of Replicants and spoke about the structure of “The Structure of Escape.” I recommend to readers of this commentary the audio and video recordings of that reading. After the event, I asked Murat if he would like to write for Jacket2 about his seven-part project, and he agreed. Here, below, is what he has written. — Al Filreis
Writing "The Structure of Escape": The Linearity of the Arc, by Murat Nemet-Nejat
The Structure is about movements of thought, not as philosophical strictures, but linguistic tissue; as sounds, words jostle themselves into existence, the sensuous reality of this process — the precise momentary beauty of their existence, its allure. Thoughts carry (must carry!) within themselves the seed of their own disappearance.
They are cadences, period. Like waves, they strive towards a crystallized idea — approaching a mathematical limit of a division, by zero — coalescing almost there a figment of a moment and dissolve, restarting the process. Language progresses towards, for an instant is, a way station (a dot at the end of a sentence, an torturously crystallized idea, an exhalation of “o”s, etc.) in a stream of longing.
Eda: “The underlying syntactical principle is not logic, but emphasis: a movement of the speaker’s or writer’s affections. Thinking, speaking in Turkish is... a record of thought emerging... Eda is the play of ideas through the body of Turkish.
I Did My Best Work During A Writer’s Block (Poem Title, “The Disappearance of Time,” The Structure)
The Structure, I realize as I am writing it, is an experiment in the Spicerean serial poem (not merely a long poem), ignited first by watching a badly damaged copy of Robert Bresson’s A Prisoner Escaped in the middle of the night in 2004. Spicer in his Vancouver Lectures asserts that a serial poem must satisfy two conditions: must be written against the grain, its sections must remain in the chronological order in which they were written. At the first view, there is a thrilling contradiction in these two assertions. While the former implies a strong, almost oracular faith in the power of his “low ghosts” (the inherent motions of language) to transform themselves into Logos to be seenheard once the furniture obfuscating them is cleared, the latter insists on a chronological literalness.
In discontinuous darts, time turns four dimensional in a serial poem, entering a space — becoming a sight/site (“see the silent herd” of words) — escaping the chronological condition of its writing. This occurs only because the natural, automatic, rhetorically repetitive connection of a word (or a thought) to another, the direction it wants to take, is thwarted. It is forced to move against the grain, creating a void, a tabula rasa space of undefined, half formed, almost inarticulate meaning—a process— into which the poem (and the reader), to continue, must quantumly jump.
That emptiness is the poem.
me saying needles, but it was more slender
me saying string, but it could teach dexterity to a sewing machine
a swatch, the long long night in her eyeswhere were my dreams, when deeper deeper than my sleep
A wife, a mother, who is she so beautiful!
The frame of a Bresson movie is a jail
the escape is going outside that jail
it all starts with the noises one hears,
becoming one, knowing what the noises are.
There is an act and the demonstration of an act.
the demonstration occurs in speech.
its act precedes or follows it in the frame,
step by step, painstaking step one after another,
the door opens itself.
the painstaking step is the expression of time as now
the future always, recurrent outside the frame
which becoming one knowing what the noises are
is escape. (“The Disappearance of Time,” The Structure)
In a space of continuous now, an opening is enacted in a mental fugue, sight split from words/speech (“there is an act and the demonstration of an act”), in a cat and mouse game of visionary escape towards a “future” of unity and rejuvenation that can only occur beyond the frame of the scene, of the single individual poem, beyond a single language itself.
Language’s longing in The Structure (language has a longing in the poem) is to metamorphose itself from the confines of denotations, words intended as true or false, exist or do not exist, etc. to an space where every word, because freed of linear syntax by the eye and able to move in all directions, potentially possesses every possible meaning.
The signified of all the signifiers become infinity, the void pointed to by and surrounding each word and the words beyond it
The Structure translates filmic language into words and the agglutinative syntax of Turkish poetry (its music of cadence and motion) and its poetics of Eda into English poetry.
“A deep ambivalence underlies Benjamin’s analysis of translation. While its impulse is idealist, Platonic, contemplative, it is pregnant with disintegration, as if unity (the mind) and explosive fragmentation pun in this transparent arcade.” — “Translation: Contemplating Against the Grain, 1999”
A word repeated twice erodes and creates a new meaning, escaping its own self. Puns, tautologies and accidental aural and visual echoes are the archway to the language of paradise.
Here is the poem fragment that kicks off The Structure:
in haunted homes.
n up the river
(“Prelude,” The Structure of Escape)
The Structure consists of seven parts of which four “Prelude,” “The Disappearance of Time,” “Steps” and “The Spiritual Life of Replicants” are complete. 7 has nothing to do with a plan, a logic, areas to be covered or mystical arcana. It was the emptiness I felt at the instant I conceived the poem: a gesture towards the length of the soul. I knew absolutely nothing about its “subject,” except that it was an emptiness to be filled. Now I am in the middle of number five.
1. “The Idea of a Book,” Eda: An Anthology of Contemporary Turkish Poetry, 2004.
2. “Buffalos in the Desert,” The Structure.of Escape.
3. In my view Spicer discovers this space first in Homage to Creeley where the mismatch, the lack of clear correspondence between the top and bottom of each page injects an undefined potency into the space in between. The Turkish poet k. Iskender’s poem cangüncem/ souljam (Eda: An Anthology, pp. 291/312, 337/43) is another example of this process towards emptiness.
4. Doesn’t Spicer refer to a river, poetry being the clicks log[o]s make in the river, rubbing against each other?