Poems by Carol Watts
It was reading Lorine Niedecker that got me back to writing. There had been a fifteen-year gap or refusal, and then in 2004 the poetry started pouring out in sequences, like writing a back catalogue. I’d always picked up on American cadences alongside English traditions, the directness of sound and speech. Growing up in Britain in the sixties, a kind of American timbre came through in music, film, and especially on TV. There was a lag, we often got it late. It’s no surprise it was formative somehow, mixing with everything else that comes through the ear. There are frequencies I look for. I’ve found that traveling in the US has allowed me to hear them, the everyday differences and attachments. That as much as reading. So there’s a journey across North Dakota between the minimal lines of When Blue Light Falls. Wrack begins by taking on the punned complicity of a verb as much as wrecked booty — ‘I wrack’ — that came from George Bush’s verbalizing of ‘I-raq’ on the news. I wrote on Dogtown after going into the swamps there in search of eighteenth-century cellar holes before I realized — duh! — that Charles Olson owned it. Parts of my new collection, Occasionals, while rooted in London and John Clare’s wanderings, were also written in Bolinas and carry freight from Massachusetts, spliced at the level of the line in what I see as irrational cuts. There’s a cartoon coyote that turns up at one moment — it’s for me as much registering the distracted wolf in Beuys’s “I Like America and America Likes Me” as the wily one.
Most immediately and as a given I hear Stein, Williams, Creeley alongside the British writers who matter to me. Meeting Bob Grenier in the UK in 2005 opened up his minimal poems, both their Keatsian attention and the four-color ‘scrawl’ that makes them material and difficult to decipher. I also work in other media, use handwriting, there was a permission in seeing them. I discussed Zukofsky’s small horse by email with Bob, began to think about Larry Eigner (I’m remembering Steve McCaffery’s discussion in London of Eigner’s word ‘fleering’). Lyn Hejinian’s Happily. Stephen Ratcliffe’s epic durational works. Substantially, however, the most important writing to me has been that by Alice Notley and Leslie Scalapino, for the integrity of their encounter with language, two forms of being uncompromising. I hear the stakes of writing there. I am listening these days to Eleni Sikelianos, Cathy Wagner, Lee Ann Brown, and thinking about song.
I could go on.
Watts reads in Paris as part of the Double Change reading series, 2011.
Five from Occasionals
Cosas que pasan. Things happen. In the occasional,
without recognition. Risks run, tessellate. He would
burn her back, he says, his. Mother, into presence.
As if she would return to herself in his desire.
Too close. To see she might want in her own terms.
Horror is best domesticated, and we weep
vainly. When the wind swells, the plane enters sound
differently. Spins, the way a compass needle does,
finding. Direction, a lag catching, before it steadies.
What happens in an indrawn. Breath, on that scale.
A thunder clap, restarting. If Living Is Without You,
across hedge groins, privet privates. At night, chorus,
I Can’t. We climbed the pines, he buried. Cut-out
pictures, leaving holes. The small incline was
freedom. Resin, bark, bending under weight.
It might pitch us. To the ground, coyotes falling
from the cliff. Followed by a rock, suspended.
Any More, plangent warbling. The hum of wings,
happens. Colour of a green beetle, catching. Light
between branches, this summer. Taped birdsong,
ticks in the sink bowl, shaken. Water trapped
in its own form, mild. Planetary skin, float, tasting.
Clear borealis, we went to look, treading it. The cliffs
rose, let my limbs get me there and back. About
to dive and you shouted, what about. The book,
panic. Caves, where children swing. In times of
famine. They stockpile. Supplies, mouldering
in deserted buildings, infrequently visited. Yes.
He died in a desert town. The quiet
of his lines, baking. In the heat, where
something in the trees, is. Rising, as birds
might. I am not there, to interrupt. Or to
cut, irrationally, in. Perhaps I slide my finger
along the edge, each. Blade too close
to see, now. It is autumn. Insist on its
seriousness. This seam, inside frayed.
To pull apart, as threads do, when.
Flesh expands. And darned up, badly,
the lift of matter. Tugs and scabs, not
for want of trying. He runs, awkwardly.
Enough to leave them, sometimes. To
work their own accommodation, each.
Space can be a fragment, a sliver. Of
shrapnel, tossed up. In circumstance.
Dragging on the skin. Or a number of
other things. A stumbling looking after,
he said. Did he, or perhaps not. The time
when soot. Flooded the room, a bird
escaping, when. In the process of relating,
the same event occurred. The time, when
soot had flooded. The astonishment
of friends, at this relation. Clearing up,
after. In every finger, there are. Silences,
drawn along, and rough. Against, what
surfaces. Or lines, when he was here. Not
sparing the impulse, when. What bird falls.
The absence of harm is not the place to begin.
In the mildness of. Seasons, insufficient leaf
fall, they hang on. By the last thread, needing.
Definition, the gasp of frost. To let go. I know
what it is and then I do not, this game. Quietens
us down. If you break it open why, is there only
this silence, cracked open, the salt of other.
Pain, is not mine to own. It does not have a
cavity, for light. Or breath, but it serves, pain
persisting. To find a relation. Will you cut out
eyes and mouth, place it. At the window, lamp
for an evening. When they come asking, or
punishing. Replace the roof, it begins to burn.
That is for tomorrow. Now the purl of sky engine,
the point when it turns, sound dropping. Will
descent remain after it has gone, do we. Know
the reliance of gravity as a reluctant measure.
When it leaves us, only. Aggregations, do not
think of it as a lightness. Stacks of crimson,
the gnarl of globes, residues. Of distant earth,
chambers of flesh and light. The nature of over
wintering, buoyed up, hardened to its lasting, is.
Convincing, it does not ask to be. A mode of
attention. The thickness, is a red hide. Density
reassures, the beat of. Knuckles checking
ripeness, you know. He said, the rest are all
sold, and these the last. Red, green veins, will
open at the ceremonial, the knife. Sticks.
Rest, is. Also a gathering. Sometimes,
it constellates happily, or pintucks. Tacked
up for later attention, in. Moments of early
afternoon, when labour is. Required, there
are. Patches of quiet worked in, pulled down
where thought. Waits in deeper compass,
it waits. Awhile. For the clearing of ground
to end, when gleaning is. A later gathering
that stacks up hopefully. Later corn will grow
as high as the fence, does it. Begin in thought
before ground determines. Where it rises,
already. Where birds quilt in sound, when
they prick it out in shoots. Or in small pursed
seeds. Bursting. Are there cries. Of alarm at
beginning again, or. Nothing of contention,
just round in the palm repeatedly. Watered
to the depth of several minutes. Do they answer,
each. Hole is an undertaking, a wager with.
The darkness of woods, where. Eyes roll in
the silence, without animals, do they. Return
from broken trees, the blue branches, suddenly.
In spans of limbs and elbows, when waking
is a condition loosely remembered. This tree
bends, it is a woman’s back today, it pauses.
Under the moss, aching in hollows. Has the
calendar passed by, or does it fan out. Overhead,
and wheel with others. Congregating, does
it wheel freely. This is. A branch, a root.
Thinking to greet light early. When sun rises,
it falls through the slats in patches. In which
direction to catch it. Surely, the small moth.
Spreads itself on the white wall. Today,
does it sweat. Or take heat from the damp
air, some principle of silicate. Animates,
it has. A brown perfection, scaled from. A
forest floor. Water would recoil, it holds
itself distinct. Will it break, so much mounts.
Skywards, thickened thrown. But held in
vapour, you could not keep it at bay. Unless
something in you. Demanded that desiccation,
in lieu of. Attention. While your mind busies
itself. With elsewhere, and seasons take place.
In a grand rolling, you think. Of extension,
arms outflung, languorous, the weight of
gravity. As resettlement, still. It is night, they
fall over the edge. Are sighing, the sheen of.
Sleep, this dark syrup. Muttering. Bats wildly
against the light, it wheels, is white. Blinding,
so close to. Magnesium flares, the dry roar
of it. On a smaller. But it would seem a
conflagration. Under glass, is that abandon. In
wheeling, or what distraction is. Compulsion
to bring bodies near. Sight, its reach, or. This
trust falling towards. Experience, night secrecies.
Ending. The warm plane of outside, enters.
(from Occasionals, Reality Street, 2011)