The colors of death (PoemTalk #193)

Ariana Reines, "To the Reader"

From left: Pattie McCarthy, Eric Shoemaker, Michelle Taransky


Al Filreis brought together Michelle Taransky, Pattie McCarthy, and Robert Eric Shoemaker, who had traveled from Chicago to join us — to talk about a poem by Ariana Reines, “To the Reader.” The poem was included in Reines’s A Sand Book (Tin House, 2019). Eric and Al co-curated the selection, in part because of Eric's work with magical poetics. Our recording of Reines performing this poem dates from 2020 and was hosted by the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art. The audio we hear toward the beginning of the episode is extracted from a video that is available on YouTube and Vimeo, produced by Christian Lund, with sound editing by Tomás Guiñazú. Click HERE to read a text of the poem (scanned from A Sand Book).

The group began with an improvised list of topics this poem urges us to confront. One topic (taken up toward the end of the discussion) is the trope of the unsayable. The speaker has “seen things no one can explain” — has had an experience but the poem will defer or show itself incapable of describing it. Then there’s the problem of conscious and unconscious literariness: that which isn’t explainable — is this the magic Eric sought in the choice of poem? — is a knowledge “for which no lineage / Credentialed me.” Such arising from nowhere frees her to pass in and out of the living world. Again, liminal incomprehension: “Not because I know anything / Though I might know something.” On our list, unsurprisingly, was the matter of the address to the reader. The poet-speaker is “burning / With desire” to be known by us as we read. Such reading of a poem — “In this of all media”! — is a matter of our joining her in “the secret place” she has “prepared / For us.” We, her readers, are ultimately together in the poem and mystified by it. Magic, for sure.

Zach Carduner engineered, directed — and then edited — this 193rd episode of PoemTalk. Be sure to find us on Spotfiy and/or Apple podcasts. Subscribe to receive notifications of new episodes and leave us a review.