Saturday, October 2, 2010

What I Say, What I Mean, What You Hear

Guy le Charles Gonzalez, a slam poet who has gone on to establish himself as a really bright voice in the conversation about the future of book publishing, reposted a funny Venn diagram with two, distinct, non-overlapping circles: "What the poet meant" and "What you thought they meant."

Funny because, of course, yes. And yet... At last Thursday's NYU reading series, Matthew Zapruder fielded several questions about the difference between public and private language. The questions arose from this line in his poem "Come On All You Ghosts": "In this poem // every word means exactly / what it means / when we use it in every day life." This gesture, startlingly generous and probably surprising to most readers of contemporary poetry, assures the reader that we have the means to understand one another. It asserts that the writer / reader circles of the Venn diagram can overlap. Even for me (my own readerly predilection being for poems in which each word spirals out in countless directions), it's a line that comes sweetly, openly, irresistibly.

But that does not mean Matthew thinks the circles overlap 100%. In the Q & A, he made explicit the difference between public and private language -- and that each word functions in each realm all the time. "Really," he said, "it's a miracle we can understand each other at all." He mentioned his young nephew coming to learn the word "tree," for whom it means, first, the very specific tree in his backyard -- one you and I will never see. That tree will always live inside the nephew's word. And each of us has our own private tree inside the word. ("Towering tree within the ear," Rilke wrote in his first Sonnet to Orpheus.) The word is both "public," the abstraction you and I understand and communicate with, and "private," the particular no one else can know. So the poem -- "a machine made out of words" as Williams has it -- delivers a structure for readers, each of us, to share. Together, privately. As Matthew's brilliant "Come On All You Ghosts" gives us in its final lines: "I have done my best to leave // behind this machine / anyone with a mind / who cares can enter."

The lucky ones

At this week's literary salon at NYU, Matthew Zapruder filled the house. While I've almost stopped going to readings altogether recently, this one felt like a can't miss. And it was: His new poems are among the most exciting work produced by our generation and he read them with warmth, humor, and wit. Looked at simply in the context of the poets in the audience that night -- Rachel Zucker, Timothy Donnelly, Cate Marvin, Mark Bibbins, Brenda Shaughnessy, Geoffrey Nutter, etc. -- ours suddenly looks like not only a generation of promise, but, suddenly, one that delivers amazing contributions across an impossibly wide spectrum of interest and style. Add in a few of my other favorite poets who weren't there -- Thomas Sayers Ellis, Claudia Rankine, Linh Dinh, Prageeta Sharma -- and this is one crazy good group. But while all of the above are roughly the same age, and all are good friends with each other, "group" isn't really the word, is it? They all share an at-playness with their circumstance. But some use persona, some use "self." Some use a forthrightness of delivery, some tell it slant. Some mix-up diction, some keep it straight up. Some keep the politics personal, some invest it in you, dear reader. Afterward, a friend lifted a glass to the whole evening -- which included all of us reading and writing poems today. "Aren't we the lucky ones," he said. Yes.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Bruise by Magdalena Zurawski

The BruiseThe Bruise by Magdalena Zurawski

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Early in this novel the main character M--- is in a writing class where the prof delivers the old (not untrue) canard that stories need something to "really" happen in them, not simply possess the potential for something to happen. Zurawski tests this truism in a novel composed as the experience of a single consciousness over a period of time. M--- possesses something like an Autism of Pure Feeling, although I don't want that label to make her seem merely strange, when in fact what she's going through will be recognizable to anyone who has tested the limits of imagination and found the boundaries blur. The story stays so deep in M---'s consciousness the people surrounding her -- although she seems more or less like a regularly social college student -- seem not to exist. Or to exist only in her imagination. Which of course they do, although that doesn't settle the question of their "reality" or lack of it. With so many (all?) stories from the publishing industry built to be movie-ready packages of plot, it comes as a relief to read a novel that confronts its own existence as imagination, the active ground between reality and fantasy. What a joy to encounter a novel that is composed of words, and could only exist as words. If a movie were to be made of The Bruise it would have to translate all the activity from words to images; it would have to be something else. It is a brilliant, moving, sympathetic take on the coming-of-age of the imagination as a coming-into-selfhood.

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Sunday, June 20, 2010

John Ashbery's Flow Chart, first lines

Restarting Ashbery's "Flow Chart" this morning, the opening lines mirror my feelings on the state of book publishing (and my place in it):

Still in the published city but not yet
overtaken by a new form of despair, I ask
the diagram: is it the foretaste of pain
it might easily be? Or an emptiness
so sudden it leaves the girders
whanging in the absence of wind,
the sky milk-blue and astringent? We know life is so busy,
but a larger activity shrouds it, and this is something
we can never feel, except occasionally, in small signs
put up to warn us and as soon expunged, in part
or wholly . . .

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Beer and Poincaré

Reading an essay by Henri Poincaré and a book by John Beer, it occurs to me:

a poem is ground for invention.

Each reader, each reading, always the invention occurs in the act of engaging the words.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

A kelson of the creation

We can argue about the poetry, but Robert Hass is hands down the best teacher of poetry we have today. I love this interview with Terry Gross on Fresh Air:

Monday, January 25, 2010

automatic class generator

the blockbuster movie stylings of milton's paradise lost

the uses of synecdoche

how metaphor is foundational to thought

thing is to place: the new syllogism

is everything allegory or is this just a prison?

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Poem for the new year (petit mal)

The lord of absence turns
away from absence
a spiral

raises the top of his head
to a dome An aura
some sense in themselves

when neurons storm open
too many paths at once

The ant turns
into the ant turns
into the ant Each

segment of its body
glistens The colony
won’t wait