Apr 14, 2014

CAIUS DOBRESCU--My Writing Process--Blog Tour






Many thanks to poet Iulia Militaru for inviting me to participate in the "my writing process" blog tour.  You can see her own response here.




1.     What am I working on?

I have an already long history of involvement with verse narrative. I’m in the process of learning from the experience of having written a quite fat free-verse novel – among other things, I’ve been brought to ponder on the necessity of more intuitive titles, since the one I coined, Euromorphotikon, seems to have twisted minds and tongues :).

I also consider navigating in rather different thematic bays. Euromorphotikon dealt with the contemporary state of play of 1960s utopianisms, in the form of an allegorical Congress of “abundant Love” held on an imaginary Mediterranean island. Currently I’m brooding on a combination between a verse novel and a dramatic oratory that would bring together and intertwine inner monologues (oscillating between self-apology and hot intimate fantasies) of some of the historical figures that politically imposed or ideologically sponsored the instauration of Stalinist dictatorship and terror in Romania, in the 1950s. Another tentative project would be a verse novel exploring the mind of Nicolae Ceauşescu during his visit to China and North Korea in the 1970s (in the aftermath of which Romanian domestic policies took on one of the most bizarre courses among the already bizarre Soviet Block countries).  
    
2.     How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I try to build on elements that are not ordinarily associated with poetry. Like, for instance, different clusters of the argumentative discourse – more precisely, on those moments when electric discharges of intuition get the better of logical-rhetorical patterns. This is what I experimented in my book Odes to the Free Enterprise [without mentioning that being at least half-way serious on such an object of lyrical praise should be mind-boggling for the vast majority of the poets of both hemispheres :) ].

As far as verse-narrative is concerned, what I think I’m doing is implying the expressive tension and concentration power of poetry in vividly telling a story, to a larger extent that it is usually done. I suppose that all narrative poets mean to prove their work more than a regular epic undertaking somehow arbitrarily written in uneven and discontinued instead of even and continuous lines. What I personally try to do in furthering this quest is putting the cohesive force of mythical imagination and the synthetic virtues of metaphorical expression to a better use, as far as the “imitation of action” is concerned.  

In plainer words, I look for a fine tuning and walk a fine line between, say, Derek Walcott’s Omeros, where the intensity of poetic vision actually pulverizes the epic unfolding, and Les Murray’s Fredy Neptune, where the poetic aura of the narrative tends to succumb into mere rhythmical prose.  
 
 3.     Why do I write what I do?

For turning uncertainty and indeterminacy into ordering principles. The concept of emergence is poorly and mechanically understood. In psychological and mental terms, it implies letting an extended order (be it as distributed, flexible, polycentric as it may – but an order nevertheless) expand from a kernel of creative doubt. Replacing the centrality of hard belief with a core of reasonable [but also infra-, para- or meta-reasonable :) ] doubt. Searching for the ordering power (or rather: virtue) of doubt. Activating the expressive potential hidden in the age-long tradition of philosophical skepticism, a potential that has been only randomly, superficially and more often than not unconsciously tackled by poetry.

4.     How does your writing process work?

It starts with a sense of confronting the basic swarming of my consciousness – possibly the remote echo of the Big Bang :). With assuming consciousness as dispersed, self-conflicting and cacophonic, with experiencing the crude indeterminacy, the raw, inextricable osmosis between emotions, normally credited as rooted-in-the-flesh, and cerebral configurations conventionally and inertially labeled as non-corporeal. It starts from honestly accepting this state of opaque anarchy – and proceeds towards successive clarifications of what a comforting, to wit comfortable, anyway subtly-ballanced lack of closure might look like. Towards translucence, not transparency. Translucence being the transparency of informed optimists :).

                                                                                 --CAIUS DOBRESCU

 ________________________

Caius Dobrescu – born 1966, at a still young age, around 15, became part of the Romanian underground literary scene inspired by the free experimental spirit of the counterculture of the Sixties. As a poet, he should be a disappointment for the Western mind in search of ethnic-exotic thrills. Together with Andrei Bodiu, Marius Oprea, Simona Popescu, Sorin Matei, Marius Daniel Popescu, he was part of the so-called Braşov group, developed in the eraly 80s around the influential poet and cultural critic Alexandru Musina, which had no taste for exploring the deep roots of the native Romanian spirit. On the contrary, such an archaic etno mystique, rather encouraged by the national-communist cultural policies of the local dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu, was felt as totally false and revulsive. In his earlier poetry, Dobrescu explored the ,,rythms and blueses‘‘ of everyday language, simultaneously paying attention to the moral conundrums of life under the ,,real existing socialism‘‘.  His work was published only after the fall of the Communist regime (Efebia/Efeby, 1994, Spălîndu-mi ciorapii/Washing my socks, 1994, Deadevă/‘ndeed, 1998). In a later phase, he tried to mingle poetry with the theoretical reflection on social change, emerging order and the complex functioning of our adaptive mind (Odă liberei întreprinderi/Ode to the free enterprise, 2009 – the German version of this volume received the Prise for European Poetry of the city of Münster, Germany, in 2009).

ELENA VLADAREANU--My Writing Process--Blog Tour


Thanks to Iulia MIlitaru for inviting me to participate in this blog tour.  Her own response is available here.



What am I working on?

In these days I work for a performance based on one of my recent texts called Habemus bebe. It’s a text about motherhood and early childhood, a very fragmented text, like a written instalation. It will be a real show on a stage and I work with a director (Robert Bălan) and three actresses (Dana Voicu, Carmen Florescu, Lala Mişosniki).  It will be shown for the first time this late April.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

It’s a difficult question with impossible answers. I think the difference it’s a common artistic obsession for a lot of artists, everybody wants his voice to be unique and to bring something new in a field where everything has been already done. And sometimes he really feels beeing an innovator and maybe he really is an innovator. But the whole process of innovating, the continuum of testing the new and the borderlines of what we call art (poetry in our case) transform him or her from an artist in a real artist. In conclusion, I can’t say how does my work differ from others of its genre, but I must confess that I always try to push the limits of what we use to call poetry.

Why do I write what I do?

It makes me feel free. It’s my playground.

How does your writing process work?

I start getting obsessed with a theme and with a structure. I work on these two elements days and days, without writing anything in fact, but reading, cutting up fragments and audio and video files, building a personal archive. Then I start writing. 

                                                                                                         --Elena Vladareanu
 _________________
Elena Vlădăreanu was born in 1981, in Medgidia (Constanţa). She studied Romanian and French Litterature at the University of Bucharest and Visual Studies at Image Studies Centre in Bucharest (CESI – Centrul de Excelenţă în Studiul Imaginii). She published her first collection in 2002, Pagini after an underground collection, din confesiunile distinsei doamne m. She published also: Fisuri (2003), Europa. Zece cântece funerare (2005), Spaţiu privat. A handbook (2009 with drawings by Dan Perjovschi). She published also poetry in several anthologies, like The Vanishing Point That Whistles. An Anthology of Contemporary Romanian Poetry (2011, USA) or No Longer Poetry. New Romanian Poetry (2007, UK). She works as a radio journalists and presents every week a very short contemporary poetry programme for Romanian Cultural Radio, named Poezie şi atât (Poetry and Nothing Else). Some poems in English on her website: http://www.elenavladareanu.ro/Multimedia--and--texts.php

T.R. HUMMER--My Writing Process--Blog Tour


Thanks to poet David Baker for inviting me to participate in the writing process blog tour.  You can see his own response here.

1.       What am I working on?

I’m finishing up a trilogy of books of poetry (though my publisher refuses to acknowledge it is a trilogy, and will not even discuss the matter seriously: but I’m not letting that stop me). The first book is out; the second is forthcoming this year; the third is almost complete. After that I will assemble a New and Selected Poems. Meanwhile, I have a variety of prose projects under way. I always have a variety of prose projects under way. It is a cold day in hell when any of them comes to anything, but I persist. It keeps me off the street.

2.       How does my work differ from others of its genre?

This is a question that ought never to be asked, much less answered. It is in the category of metaphysical questions such as Why is there something rather than nothing and Why does god permit evil? However, since you ask (or, to take the question at face value, since I ask) I will say that my poems differ from other poems because I think of the consciousness projected by poems, their sentience, in a way that is unique to me (and so does every other poet who is any good). It is neither, fundamentally, a matter of subject or of style, but of sentience.

3.       Why do I write what I do?

Because if I wrote something else, I would be writing something else, and then that would be what I wrote. As it is, I write this. If I could think of something else to write, believe me, I would write it. And in fact I will think of something else to write, and I will write it, every day of my life until I can no longer do it. When that happens, I will write something else.

4.       How does your writing process work?

Not very well (see my answer re prose projects in progress at the end of question one).

Process is a fascinating subject: it is never the same twice. It cannot be taught, or learned, it can only be done. Technique can be taught; process, never. I write poems in clusters, hoping they are in some sense individually as well as collectively coherent (like postal employees). Hence books come about. When the clusters reach a certain critical mass they begin to make demands (like postal employees) and also to malinger (ditto).  I whip them into shape; they bring me strange messages and deposit them in my mailbox. As to prose, it is endless and unfinishable. 

                                                                                          --T.R. Hummer

_________
T.R. Hummer is a native of Mississippi. He earned his BA and MA from the University of Southern Mississippi and the Center for Writers and his PhD in 1980 from the University of Utah. He has served as editor of The Kenyon Review and The Georgia Review, among others, and is a professor of English at Arizona State University.
His publications include the poetry collections Ephemeron (LSU Press, 2011), which won the 2012 Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Award for Poetry, The Infinity Sessions (LSU Press, 2005), Useless Virtues (LSU, 2001), Walt Whitman in Hell (LSU, 1996), The Angelic Orders (LSU, 1982), and The Passion of the Right–Angled Man (University of Illinois Press, 1984). He is also the author of two collections of essays, most recently Available Surfaces (The University of Michigan Press, 2012), which was a selection of the Poets on Poetry series.
Among his honors are a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship and an NEA Fellowship. Hummer has played saxophone in the Skinner Brothers Band and the Richmond-based jump blues band Little Ronnie and the Grand Dukes (Young and Evil, Planetary Records, 2001).

Apr 7, 2014

DAVID BAKER--MY WRITING PROCESS--BLOG TOUR


Thanks to poet Martin Woodside for inviting me to participate in this blog tour.  You can see his own response here.



What Are You Working On?
                       
1.     What am I working on?

I am currently working on many things.  I am putting the final touches and last-last revisions on a group of poems that are the final poems of my new manuscript, Scavenger Loop.  I just signed a contract with W. W. Norton for that book to appear in May or June of 2015.  It is a book of poems that range from fairly formal (syllabic, stanzaic) to fairly scattered (fragments, pieces, shards).  Some of the central crises of the poems are my mother’s death; the terrible destruction of our landscape and environment; the decay of Midwestern towns and villages; the persistence of human love and stupidity; despair; hope. 
      I am working on a few new poems, subsequent to this new book.  They are poems, so far, about the Caribbean, about popular songs, and about the subjects above—especially environmental and natural issues.
      I am also working on some new essays—about Wallace Stevens, Gwendolyn Brooks.  I am drafting notes for a book on poetic form/s.  I am beginning to shape and reshape the first shadows for a new-and-selected gathering of poems from all my books of poems. 
            I am also working on my lawnmower, which needs an oil change and a sharpened blade.


2.     How does my work differ from others of its genre?

It is different because I wrote it, not someone else. 
But in another regard, how can my poems be notably different from the genre of poems
and poems in that genre?  They are poems, and so they share the characteristics and rhetorical promises—variable and contradictory as they may be—of poems. 


3.     Why do I write what I do?

I write out of many different causes and reasons and impulses.  Why?  Because on one
day I may be one David, on another another.
I write about obsessions of mine, the nature of memory and desire.  I write these days
about the environment, about “nature,” about farming and the “development” of land in the Midwest, about families, love and loss.  Witness and invention.
            I write poetry because of the intense musical nature of poetic language.  Because of the formal rigor.  Because of the obsessive compressive necessity of it all.

4.     How does your writing process work?

I notice that three of the four questions here use the word “work.”  That’s such a Western or American or capital virtue, isn’t it?  Toil, labor—the production of things by such toil and labor—and this gives our “work” its value, its commercial validity, the commodity of its meaning.
      I do not think much about process.  I do not want to have a process.  I want to write.  Sometimes I want to write, and sometimes, more often, I do not want to write or cannot write or do not have time or occasion to write.  People who aren’t writing often talk about the process of their writing.  People who are writing are writing. 
      I have written poems in this way:  I often start with an idea, or a musical tone or phrase or instrumentation, or a frustration or sense of awe or beauty, or a conundrum or a challenge.  I often take notes—from books, internet sources, experience, other poems, songs, menus, maps, museums.  Sometimes I take a lot of notes, and sometimes I take my lot of notes and figure I might write a single poem from all those separate notes for separate poems. 
I look for a sound, and a line, and a setting.  I often write early drafts in syllabic lines.  I often then take apart those syllabic lines and fracture them, or recompose them, or put them in quantities of syllables or fractal-like stanzas.  I write more drafts.  A typical poem (there are no typical poems) might be, say, 25-40 lines, but that short poem might have taken me 40 or 75 drafts over many days or weeks or months or years.  I proceed very slowly very quickly.  I mean that literally.
      Then I start over.  Then I start back.

___________


Among David Baker’s fourteen books are his most recent poetry collection, Never-Ending Birds (2009, W. W. Norton), winner of the 2011 Theodore Roethke Memorial Poetry Prize, and Talk Poetry: Poems and Interviews with Nine American Poets (2012, Arkansas). This latest title is cosponsored by The Kenyon Review and gathers Baker’s KROnline interviews with a number of important poets. For his work, Baker has been awarded fellowships and grants from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, Poetry Society of America, Ohio Arts Council, Society of Midland Authors, and others. He currently serves as Professor of English at Denison University where he holds the Thomas B. Fordham Chair of Creative Writing.

IULIA MILITARU--MY WRITING PROCESS--BLOG TOUR

Thanks to Raluca Tanasescu for inviting me to the "my writing process" blog tour. You can read her own response here.


1) What am I working on?

I am currently working on a long and almost “boring” poem about nothing in particular but a stupid well-known political message; not a very profound one (stupidity can be quite profound sometimes, but my message is just a simple stupidity): “We all are capitalist bitches. So, face it and smile (if you can do it any longer)”. My poem consists of parts of discourses from different time periods, from XIXth century to nowadays. The blank page become a space, a homeland for all that different public and personal voices. A real war seems to burst out there; in fact, nothing happens and, in the end, everybody kisses everybody in the marketplace. That’s our daily dramas making us feel like tragic figures. 

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Now I have to get a little more serious, because I am to boast about my originality which consists in not being original at all. That’s why I try most of the time not to speak about that authorial I – the denial of the powerful/strong inner subject by getting out from my inside body and creating an extra-corporal network-like subject. In this respect, speaking of “I” is a self-delusion. Yes, of course, that’s a utopian attempt, but I try just to uncurtain that utopia and become aware of it. I don’t want a poetry of personal communication, I want a map-like poetry. The white paper sheet is nothing else, but the space of the poem, of coming into being for a large number of dead voices, powerless or powerful voices, dead and forgotten languages. The subject who writes must be a witness and a mark, an emptiness and a rhizome.

Most of my colleagues are still indebted to a specific type of personal discourse. The presence of a powerful I at the center of a poem is what I like to call: “return stroke”. In fact, that is a perpetuation of the old image of the dictator from communist era. In those times, those techniques worked like a mirror but also as a resistance attempt. Today such a discourse is useless and harmful. The distinction between aesthetical discourse and simple and everyday language is also misleading; the poems as such still promote the centered speech, built around that utopian I (more or less directly expressed).

In this respect, I admire a lot the works of Chris Tanasescu (MARGENTO) and Elena Vlădăreanu (her last collection of poetry: Spațiu privat). Both of them, although in different ways and using different techniques, succeed in atomizing personal discourse (I), making it marginal or drowned in an impersonal speech.

3) Why do I write what I do?

Why? Because I am suffering from Bartleby syndrome—a craving for writing and an impossibility to write. This impossibility stems from the absence of inner life. What we still have today are the remains of a socio-cultural constructed subconscious. It isn’t a mystery anymore. Bolaño put it to us quite right: “We are moving by in no time inputs… Something as such will destroy the subconscious and we’ll be free hanging. ”

4) How does your writing process work?

I am trying not be impressed by anything around. Not represent anything. Run and hide of what could express myself. 

I was born somewhere between the end of the twentieth century (a century of death and resentment) and the beginning of twenty-first, somewhere between the end of a dictatorship and the beginning of capitalism. The most suitable concept for this place where I live is the one of border or frontier. My whole poetry is an attempt to define that kind of existence, borderline existence. A border has its special meaning as closure or barbed wire, an inheritance from the death camps of the last century. But, this concept might become a crossing point to the other side. There will be always this space, this border, between you and the others and it has to be turned from a barbed wire into a median space or a war zone. On the formal level, the border as a barbed wire theory means to work with different kinds of speech, put them together and try to understand in-between relations. This meeting point of all those already written speeches is not a harmonious place, but under pressure. Poetry respects your right to being different.

All of the above have a major effect upon the act of writing. The concept of authorship, the anxiety of influence are out of date.

                                                                                                               --Iulia Militaru

Next week's blog tour participants are:



Caius Dobrescu – born 1966, at a still young age, around 15, became part of the Romanian underground literary scene inspired by the free experimental spirit of the counterculture of the Sixties. As a poet, he should be a disappointment for the Western mind in search of ethnic-exotic thrills. Together with Andrei Bodiu, Marius Oprea, Simona Popescu, Sorin Matei, Marius Daniel Popescu, he was part of the so-called Braşov group, developed in the eraly 80s around the influential poet and cultural critic Alexandru Musina, which had no taste for exploring the deep roots of the native Romanian spirit. On the contrary, such an archaic etno mystique, rather encouraged by the national-communist cultural policies of the local dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu, was felt as totally false and revulsive. In his earlier poetry, Dobrescu explored the ,,rythms and blueses‘‘ of everyday language, simultaneously paying attention to the moral conundrums of life under the ,,real existing socialism‘‘.  His work was published only after the fall of the Communist regime (Efebia/Efeby, 1994, Spălîndu-mi ciorapii/Washing my socks, 1994, Deadevă/‘ndeed, 1998). In a later phase, he tried to mingle poetry with the theoretical reflection on social change, emerging order and the complex functioning of our adaptive mind (Odă liberei întreprinderi/Ode to the free enterprise, 2009 – the German version of this volume received the Prise for European Poetry of the city of Münster, Germany, in 2009).

Alberto García-Teresa (Madrid, 1980) is doctor in Hispanic Filology with Poesía de la conciencia crítica (1987-2011) (Tierradenadie, 2013). He has also published the study Para no ceder a la hipnosis. Crítica y revelación en la poesía de Jorge Riechmann (Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia, 2014). He has been coordinator of the magazine about speculative fiction Hélice, codirector of Jabberwock, annual anthology of essays of fantastic literature and editor-in-chef of Solaris. He writes critic of Literatura and Theatre in differents media: Diagonal newspaper –where he was coordinated the “Books” divison, Culturamas where he was directed the contents of poetry, Espéculo, Castilla. Estudios de literatura, Verba Hispanica, Quimera, Artes Hoy, Literaturas.com, El Viejo Topo, Viento Sur, cnt, Rebelión, La República Cultural, Ariadna-RC, Bibliópolis, Gigamesh or Prospectiva.
He has published the poetry books: Hay que comerse el mundo a dentelladas (Baile del Sol, 2008), Oxígeno en lata (Baile del Sol, 2010), Peripecias de la Brigada Poética en el reino de los autómatas (Umbrales, 2012) and Abrazando vértebras (Baile del Sol, 2013), and the plaquette Las increíbles y suburbanas aventuras de la Brigada Poética (Umbrales, 2008). Also he has published the book of micro-tales Esa dulce sonrisa que te dejan los gusanos (Amargord, 2013). His poems has been translated into romanian, english, french, serb and macedonian.

Elena Vlădăreanu was born in 1981, in Medgidia (Constanţa). She studied Romanian and French Litterature at the University of Bucharest and Visual Studies at Image Studies Centre in Bucharest (CESI – Centrul de Excelenţă în Studiul Imaginii). She published her first collection in 2002, Pagini after an underground collection, din confesiunile distinsei doamne m. She published also: Fisuri (2003), Europa. Zece cântece funerare (2005), Spaţiu privat. A handbook (2009 with drawings by Dan Perjovschi). She published also poetry in several anthologies, like The Vanishing Point That Whistles. An Anthology of Contemporary Romanian Poetry (2011, USA) or No Longer Poetry. New Romanian Poetry (2007, UK). She works as a radio journalists and presents every week a very short contemporary poetry programme for Romanian Cultural Radio, named Poezie şi atât (Poetry and Nothing Else). Some poems in English on her website: http://www.elenavladareanu.ro/Multimedia--and--texts.php

PAGE HILL STARZINGER--MY WRITING PROCESS--BLOG TOUR








Thanks to Martin Woodside for inviting me to participate in this blog tour.  His own response is available here.
 
what am I working on?

My first full-length book of poetry, Vestigial, was just published by Barrow Street Press—it was selected by Lynn Emmanuel for their 2013 contest. So I’m working away from that book, to something new. I want to evolve, hoping that if I’m lucky enough to have a second book, it will embody a different reason for being. The poems in Vestigial are splayed and opened, eroded, reduced to the bone, restless. I’ve just started to write in a compact regularized format of long, across-the-page lines, and I’m trying to speak a bit more directly instead of only through juxtaposition. But they still feel like my poems: fractured in places, interwoven in others, a mix of personal and cultural that is elliptical and layered.

how does my work differ from others of its genre?
Someone else may be better at answering this. I don’t think about genre. Maybe that’s because I’m not in academia. I just write, and I try to keep my head down so that I focus and keep going. If I stop—it’s so difficult to start again. I was glad that on the vacation I took a couple of weeks ago I could write every day all day long. That’s ideal for me.

why do I write what I do?

It’s instinctual and automatic and necessary. I write a lot about nature, which is odd living in two cities, New York and Minneapolis. But living on an edge, say like Manhattan, on the ocean, there is an intensity to everything including the number of birds. So in many ways I feel more connected to nature. Two red tailed hawks live in Washington Square Park and we follow them on a video cam; I’ve gotten to know three sets of their children. Rosie, the mother, is a passionate hunter, I wouldn’t want to be a mouse in her territory. She seems a bit of a tomboy, but maybe I’m projecting. Bobby is a gentleman, and loves to bring her a sprig of greens or a flower, sit on the top of the NYU flagpole, especially as the sun sets and he’s washed in gold, copper and silver.

If I didn’t write I would be terribly unhappy. In fact I stopped for 20 years and since I started again I’ve been happier at work, and in my personal life. I think that if you don’t do what you are meant to do you will encounter regret, and a lot of misplaced frustration and anger. I turn to this quote by Louis Auchincloss to remind me to get on with it:

“A man can spend his whole existence never learning the simple lesson
that he has only one life and that if he fails to do what he wants with it,
nobody else really cares.”

how does your writing process work?

I have a full-time job, copy director at the beauty company Aveda, so it’s hard to find time during week days. That said, I spent six months getting up at 5 am. Now, I write all weekend long. If I stop for longer than a week, it’s terribly difficult to begin again. It’s even hard after a week. I think it would be a good idea for me to look at the poem I’m working on every day, say, every evening, and that would keep me more connected. I’m glad you asked this question, now I have a new way to stay with it!

I clip every day, whatever catches my eye I save, underline, investigate further online. I store these in vanilla folders and date them. They hand together in themes. They spark ideas as well as visits to galleries and museums which feed into general themes or initiate subjects. Sometimes I catch myself thinking the clipping won’t be of interest—but if I edit too much I find the folders then aren’t that surprising. It’s really following my instincts and trusting that there is something there.

I’m interested in substrates and shallows and coves that lie under or behind. I probably would like spelunking if I didn't’ feel claustrophobic. Oxford English Dictionary makes the histories, many obsolete, immediate—unfolding each word on the page back in time through their conflicting and dovetailing evolutions. Their new Thesaurus traces the meanings back. I like focusing small, on one word; within, flies out a macrocosm of life.

I often start by writing the first sentence with pen on paper. I like gel fountain pens from Staples right now. They flow smoothly and they have a black matte rubber shaft. Very comfortable. Nothing fancy.

____


Page Hill Starzinger lives in downtown Manhattan, and has worked for 30 years in New York as Copy Director at Vogue and Estee Lauder and is currently Creative Director for Copy at Aveda.  Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Colorado Review, Denver Quarterly, Fence, Kenyon Review, Pleiades, Literary Imagination, Volt, and many others. Her poem, “Series #22 (white),” was chosen by Tomaz Salamun for a broadside created by The Center for Book Arts, NYC, in 2008. Her chapbook, Un-Shelter, selected by Mary Jo Bang as winner of the Noemi Contest, was published in 2009. Her first book, Vestigial, came out in August 2013 as winner of the Barrow Street Poetry Prize.

Apr 4, 2014

MARY SZYBIST--"Incarnadine"--Reviewed by MARGENTO

Initially published here

Mary Szybist--Incarnadine--Mysticism by Means of Poetic Experimentation, the Worldly, and the Other

The recurrent motif impressively and proteanly reprised and refashioned by Mary Szybist in Incarnadine is the one of the Annunciation.  And one of the most unique “Annunciation” scenes is staged as “from the grass beneath them,” which not so much means that the ‘announcement’ is made by the grass, but that, unlikely as it may sound, the voice in the poem is the voice of the grass.  The grass beneath “them” who?—and them doing what?  What seems to be sure is that it is the grass beneath a possible (‘deconstructed’?) scene of the annunciation, or more precisely, under a “girl” with her “knees pressed into us”—us?, us the blades of grass—while an ineffable “it” hovers above and descends in a both powerful and flighty manner, barely “skimming the tips” of the grass but still cool form the clouds and making the air “itchy.”  Whether “it” be the spirit descending, orgasm and/or impregnation (by a man, since the fact that “the shadow her chin made/ never touched but reached just past/ the crushed mint” may speak of a rather ‘unholy’ position), or the baby being conceived, this is still not the annunciation, but the ‘consummation’ of what has been announced, the act itself.

“[We] held ourselves tight/ when it skimmed just the tips of our blades” says the unusual plural speaker, “it” being the wind of the spirit. And “holding tight” may be read there as pulling ranks, a possible emphasis on a symbolic community reinforced by the Whitmanesque motif with its both erotic and funeral connotations; plus the reference to the bard’s poetics of the earthly as the same as/ultimately fused with the beyond.  But Szybist’s is a community of poems rather than one of characters or personae, with mainly a variety—or, better, variations—of form, style, and angles on a certain theme in diverse contexts.  Charles Altieri in his blurb, after speaking of the nothing out of which presence comes and the “self’s reality,” confesses to feeling “at times that I am witnessing a rebirth of the lyric.”  What a wonderful compliment, but what the famous critic does not mention is that the context in which he witnesses the lyric’s rebirth is every now and then a substantially experimental one.  And indeed, Szybist has this rare capacity of professing a fervent lyricism along with (and in the most felicitous cases, when the recipe is not more obvious than the meal itself, precisely by means of) an impressive range of styles, forms, and approaches.

These things are actually shrewdly and sort of programmatically enmeshed together in the opening poem, “The Troubadours Etc.,” the title of which can be of course read as an expression of post-postmodern ennui, but also literally, the troubadours and the rest of other such… poets and poetries fusing the deeply lyrical/confessional/sentimental with form, experiment, and song or declamation.  The very first line actually encourages this latter reading rather than the former, as it tries to cast irony away —albeit temporarily and merely in a funny way: “Just for this evening, let’s not mock them./ Not their curtsies or cross-garters…”

And then the poem lithely veers to the landscape and, under the guise of journey notations digresses from ecological and farm animal treatment concerns to the clouds of blue and the messenger pigeons,

Before us, above us, the clouds swell, layers of them,
the violet underneath of clouds.
Every idea I have is nostalgia.  Look up:
there is the sky that passenger pigeons darkened and filled—
darkened for days, eclipsing sun, eclipsing all other sound…

images that ultimately lead (in actually quite a traditional troubadour fashion, although of course in a different diction and form) to the speaker’s innermost feelings and deepest ‘anima’, still seen as shared with the other(s)—“And when we stop we’ll follow—what?/ Our hearts?” (author’s emphasis)

Szybist elegantly circumscribes in this poem the three main themes of the book: (experimenting with) poetic tradition, the (eco and/or city)scape, and the paradoxes of (encountering/approaching/describing/translating) the other.  For the latter, the overture comes at the end of “The Troubadours Etc.”—“…won’t you put me before you/ until I’m far enough away you can/ believe in me?// Then try and come closer—”

And the key metaphor for all these three themes is, as already stated above, the Annunciation, but an “incarnadine” one, that is, strongly colored by fiery emotions, and celebrated in the flesh only.  Yet in the flesh not in the sense of utter denial of the transcendent, but as the mainly if not the only way to have access to, or rather, as in the recurrently dislocated biblical scene, to receive the transcendent.

In one of the best poems (and also one of the most accomplished in terms of expressing the main concerns) in the collection, “Hail,” Szybist alternates couplets (in a book of great variety, the most frequent stanzaic pattern, maybe due to its psalmic connotations and elegiac resonance) with stand-alone lines, just as the speaker herself seems to shift from the voice of Gabriel to the one of the tapestry weaver depicting the scene to that of ‘the’ poet—“I sleep to the sound// of your name, I say there is no Mary/ except the word Mary, no trace…” is strongly allusive of Stevens’s “there is no life except in the word of it”—and finally to that of the poem as such.  The latter, containing, just like the introductory poem, masterful and relevant enjambments, testifies to its own completion and contradictory nature at the same time, perpetual and temporal/temporary, constant and in motion, a “momentary stay” finally engulfed again if not by confusion then by silence, even if meant to render an enduring image and voice: “…Mary, I am still/ for you, I am still a numbness for you.”

But Szybist’s poetry is actually never still.  “How (Not) To Speak of God” is a concrete poem in which the lines are arranged as the spokes radiating from a void hub, a solar symbol maybe that is frequent in so many cultures.  The first word in all of these lines and therefore the closest to the center is “who” (twice in the modified form, “whose”) an emphasis maybe on the personal God of the annunciation and Christianity in general, but also a smart way of embedding ambivalence in the poem—just as the title, these lines can be read both as assertive descriptions as well as questions.  But beyond such negotiations of meaning, there is a genuine fervor that really irradiates through both the diction and the design—“who should be extolled with our sugar tongues/ […]/ who saw the world incarnadined, the current flowing/ whose face is electrified by its own light…”

The author of such concrete poetry who also included a poem arranged as a syntactic tree diagram, erasure poems, found poems, poems composed of intertwined citations, ekphrases (not only of paintings but of family snapshots as well), later on in the book also authors a sonnet, “Annunciation: Eve to Ave,” whose stanzaic configuration and the rhyming scheme observed in the first quatrain are Petrarchan, but which, once reaching its volta, goes beautifully crazy, as a Mary subtly merged with Eve machineguns her amazement at the mystery of the holy experience to a hip-hop beat, playful, impudent, not forgetful of the power games informing not only (a woman’s) life but soteriology as well:

“And when I learnt that he was not a man—
bullwhip, horsewhip, unzip, I could have crawled
through thorn and bee, the thick of hive, rosehip,
courtship, lordship, gossip and lavender.”

On the facing page, in a totally different tone, a speaker (a possible far relative of Martha the sister of another Mary in the Gospels) overhears the annunciation from her kitchen; the angel is now a director shooting the scene for a movie since—“Mary, step back from the camera”—is what the speaker overhears while washing some pears in the sink.  The poetically ineffable is masterfully juxtaposed with a both subtle and overwhelming mystical experience, urbanized nature, contemporary family life, and their inevitable mediation by media.  But above all, this is the unforgettable music of the inclusive, lay and sacred chants poetry can now freely intone in the verse of the world’s most gifted young poets, mystical in the starkest bodily way, inexhaustibly experimental since relentlessly open to the other:

There were faint sounds
like walnuts being dropped by crows onto the street,
almost a brush
of windchime from the porch—

Windows around me evgerywhere half-open—

My skin alive with the pitch.

                                                            —MARGENTO

[Mary Szybist. Incarnadine. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Graywolf Press, 2013]
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