Monday, May 21, 2007

On Connections

Tomorrow I'll sit down and talk with another poet, Jill Magi, whose new book Threads has just been published by futurepoem. Our discussion is part of an interview for a journal I help edit. She's judging a contest of student work. I'm curious to hear about her process, particularly because she has successfully in this book, it seems to me, used words and visual images. Indeed, the book is described as a "hybrid work of poetry, prose and collage." This is so compelling. I consider myself inept in the making of visual images. In other words, drawing, painting, sculpting etc., while completely appealing, are talents I do not possess. (I'm not so bad in the cutting and pasting department.) Words are the way I make pictures, which lets me play with Horace's idea that painting resembles poetry. So I have many questions for Jill and the chance especially to discuss process and how she thinks about making a narrative or not. And what role collage plays in this making or unmaking. Also, the notion of history and memory. Hers plays out on a large political landscape because of the story of her grandparents and father and their life in Estonia. And autobiography too. She has elsewhere said some interesting things about the "I," a subject close to my heart.
Perhaps an excerpt from her book would be appropriate now.

from Threads

Jill Magi

Amber return, once fluid, hardened breath-trap.

Sap turns to stone as these sounds conjure whose memories?

Air pocket scarred with debris, a dictionary. His voice on tape translates

my flat speech:

too few vowels and endings that stop, closed in by consonants.

Flash card fossils. How to count, the days, the months,

I am a student, where is the bathroom, the night is long,

over the threshold, write me a letter.

Thursday, May 10, 2007


Blush gives way to green finally in my neck of the woods and I should be doing a zillion other things on
the list. For various reasons, my zeal to plow through that list is a bit diminished today. I'd rather spend an hour looking out my desk window. I bet I'd see the maple tree leaves enacting their spring fling. The other day I decided I should create a flow chart for my life, a flow chart of what's to come. Is that possible -- to organize the barrage of the mundane with a chart? Well, there's Ashbery's effort in that regard, which I pulled off the bookshelf:

from Flow Chart: A Poem

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.
Sad grows the river god as he oars past us
downstream without our knowing him: for if, he reasons,
he can be overlooked, then to know him would be to eat him,
ingest the name he carries through time to set down
finally, on a strand of rotted hulks. And those who sense something
squeamish in his arrival know enough not to look up
from the page they are reading, the plaited lines that extend
like a bronze chain into eternity.

Marjorie Perloff says the book-length poem "recalls Wordsworth's Prelude." Which I grabbed as well. Looking for what-something to rub off the malaise. I read over one of my favorite parts, about the dream by the sea--the Arab phantom who gives young William the stone and the shell. And this made me think about books of course, especially the one I'm reading called The Tears of Things: Melancholy and Physical Objects. On how we embue things with memory but they can only organize emptiness as Lacan wrote. Not that I've read him. He's quoted at length in this book, which also explores how the art we make, not exactly but somewhat, fills the void, creates another kind of thing/container through which to consider the emptiness. Kind of like Stevens' jar on the hill idea. But now it's time for the bus, time to leave the aery of desk and tree. Return to the list, the chart. The flow.

Monday, May 7, 2007

on May light

From Cole Swenson's
The Glass Age

A window is always relative to a body, and the body is never
repeated. Thus proliferates. Because every body involves a window
or windows, looking out on the world "at large," as they say, the
body is not single. And though painting was invented to correct
this, it has ended up accomplishing the opposite, making the eye
an errant thing, like that mode of traveling based on forgetting,
which we also call the body," so that these windows bring us back,
but not to us.