Sunday, July 14, 2013

Squaring the Line. Epistolary Review: Eva Heisler, Drawing Water (Noctuary Press, 2013) & Angela Hume, The Middle (Omnidawn, 2013)


Dear (r),

There’s a phrase you coined that I love: poetic kryptonite.  Yours consists of domestic science fiction, phosphorescent mammals, unironic ghazals, figurative descriptions of literal owls (symbolic owls need not apply), and implicit vampires (regarding explicit vampires, see “symbolic owls”).  And Keats, but that’s a cheap shot.

Mine begins and ends with the line.

By now you know that I’m in a relationship with modernism and it’s complicated.  Even so, I have to introduce you to two fabulous new books via William Carlos Williams in Spring and All:

“From the petals edge a line starts
that being of steel
infinitely fine, infinitely
rigid penetrates
the Milky Way
without contact—lifting
from it—neither hanging
nor pushing

The fragility of the flower
unbruised
penetrates spaces” 

(In the New Directions edition of Imaginations, ed. Webster Schott, pp. 108-9)

Here, Williams illuminates those spots of time, radiant and recurrent throughout Spring and All, when blocks of prose, or almost-prose, fall away and the broken poetic line emerges. 

Then again, maybe it’s all a question of perception.

Take the horizon line, for example,
                                   a mirage

that marks the limit of sight.” 

(7)

So begins Eva Heisler’s Drawing Water, a book that opens with a poetics:

“I spend much of my writing time seeking the horizon
line.   I know that there is no such line  but I see the line
when I look up from small blocks of text and squint at
the sea.   To write prose poems is to resist the horizon
line—

to seek thick thin straight curved broken wavy lines
among crumpled pages.

I work with little ink in my pen and hardly make a
mark.” 

(8)

Heisler’s prose poetry collection, or experimental essay, or discourse on ekphrasis and the materiality of language (“Lines may multiply as cracks across the surface of an old painting/or lines may measure and slice like a butcher’s cleaver” (20)), is one of the first offerings from Noctuary Press, which publishes texts that interrogate genre categories.  Throughout the book's experiment in form and genre, a desire for the artistic/poetic line breaks through, becoming a central and prismatic obsession:

I look back at the doodling I did during the last difficult conversation:
moments of departure are lines of departure that shoot
across a yellow legal pad.  Along the bottom of the page, straight lines
meet at cold right angles.  The lines
are not to be seen.  Like my desire for an elaborate
staging of line breaks.

(11)

Here, as in Spring and All, we see that nonexistent horizon line between text and context, life and writing—the pen hitting paper while the writer speaks, the poem outside the body yet embodied:

line break heart break

(29)  

Or:

“[...] ‘The lines in my hand/will have to do.  They’re already written down.’”

(48)

This link—between the staged or dramatic or rejected or desired or activated work of the line and the human body—brings me to Angela Hume’s award-winning chapbook just out from Omnidawn, The Middle.  I’ve written before about Hume’s subtle, delicate fragments, which enclose the heavy letters of scientific, medical, and philosophical writing.  In this new work, Hume crafts “an aesthetics of/injury” (26) centered on clefts and fractures, “an aesthetics of the middle” (42) that occupies and delimits a space (safe, harmful) between:

“Blunt
objects                        bone            fracture

                                    speech centers                        leave torn
                         human breasts, cleave
                            skulls

((“non-lethal”                                    rubber wax plastic wood                        projectiles

                                                loathe the body, own
                                                   the hema
                                                 toma

the object’s: pain”

(28)  

Hume’s fragments not only occupy a liminal space but also create space as they throw the blank page into contrast and illuminate the shape of what’s missing.  Complementing Heisler’s recurrent, prose-poetic imperative to “cover the square” (52), Hume’s fragments uncover absent text:

“ordinary hour
                        tracing                                    now
now            now

goes and
goes”

(46)

Does it all come back, dear (r), to the poetic line as an imaginary object penetrating nothing, drawing on everything, drawing a possible world on the page?  Hume’s fractured, fragmented, and fractal poetics always strike me as a meditation on what can’t be said, a mapping out of absence.  As Heisler writes:

“but when  white is well  managed,  it ought to  be  strange—tender as 
well as bright—like white roses washed in milk.  The eye ought to seek 
the white for rest, brilliant though it may be; and to feel it as a heathen
space

among a flushing of reds.”

(15)

Sparse, referential, and anti-narrative, both Drawing Water and The Middle offer productive erasures, re-constellated discourse fields, and the page made manifest.  With tremendous delicacy, Heisler and Hume conduct formal experiments that walk the line between thing and space, presence and absence, square and line, prose and poetry.

So the line’s open, dear (r).  Write me soon.

Yrs,
R

Monday, July 1, 2013

Across the Oonaverse: Upstate New York

Dear (r),

There are two Mount Hadleys, one in the southern Adirondacks and one on the moon.

In Johnsburg, New York, there's a road-side egg stand that boasts "Eggs so fresh, you'll want to slap the hens!"  Behind the stand, you can see several dozen chickens and one very large turkey.  You're supposed to leave $3.25 in the money box when you take a crate of eggs, but there's also a security camera & a hand-painted sign alerting you to its presence.  I pointed out that somebody would be more likely to steal the camera itself than a dozen eggs, which prompted my anthropologist to observe that the farmers aren't worried about thieves, per se; they're worried about opportunists.     

Horse races aside, Saratoga Springs is full of temptations.  For instance, you're not supposed to feed the ducks and/or ducklings in the park.  There's also a Lilly Pulitzer store that somehow makes you feel as though you've never really seen a Lilly Pulitzer dress for what it is.  And Joe's dad makes a mean mango tofu.

On a rainy Sunday afternoon, it's important to remember that there is no place to get coffee in uptown Kingston, New York.  & I mean no place.  Even Dunkin' Donuts is closed.  So you'll understand why, after a good long wander through rainy, shuttered streets, an anthropologist, a comparativist, a pit bull, and your R found themselves catching up over the selected works of local poets.




We bought two copies of Dan Wilcox's boundless abodes of Albany (Benevolent Bird Press, 2010), which features the following crafty aubade:

DECOUPAGE ME

Cut me up, paste me
in your collage, over
that waterfall, or inside
that shell, expanding
like breath,
                  better yet
put me next to that naked woman
(a nice place to be)
or, sometime soon
next to you, stuck
in the grey glue of morning.
     (18)




I was also drawn to Four Women (EXILIT, 2005), a co-authored chapbook featuring 3-5 poems contributed by four poets.  We can't know why Ina Conneally, Sandra Graff, Jeanne W. Mueller, & Mona Toscano decided to collaborate on a chapbook, or why they decided to make the most basic details of the chapbook's authorship its title, but somewhere in that mystery there are echoes of those handwritten books passed from hand to hand by women at the turn of the nineteenth century.  & these echoes reverberate in the chapbook's scenes of daily life: "Someone tried to sell me perfume/I told him I wasn't into/Odors from nobody's sweat" (Conneally, 5); "Dump your husband if/he won't help you with housework/So you have time to hang the wash/outside on the line" (Graff, 10); "she,/who knows proper placement for all objects/in her refrigerator,who tells/stories three times and doesn't say,//'Stop me if you've heard this" (Mueller, 16); "My daughter has told me she is in love" (Toscano, 22).

Finally, we bought James Lonergan's Poached Dreams (Epigraph Books, 2010), a book of poems written by the bookseller's father over the course of forty years.  Its questions range from the satiric metaphysical ("Does God go to parties and let his hair down?" (71)) to the grotesque mundane ("I have driven you/from our bed./Is it my farting?" (27)) to something somewhere in between:

He once asked me out of the blue
What I thought was the dirtiest part of one's body.

I laughed at the question.  "Your ass."
He said "Your hand."

At our twenty-fifth class reunion
He asked the same question again.

I laughed at the question.  "Your hand."
He said "Your head."
     (14)

Such questions are interspersed with poems in a range of registers, elegy, epigraph & ode (to life Upstate, among other things) chief among them.

(r), when I wrote to you from Gore Mountain, I asked you for a fact to ponder & you wrote, When you fold down the arms of a paper star, you get a pentagon, which is the shape of a house.  The stars are always so close to home.

Yours as always,
R