Thursday, July 12, 2007

The Night Boat

I was really struck by many aspects of Kazim Ali's essay in APR, "Poetry and Space." But, of course, it is late at night and I am tired, and I am only able to address my fascination with one tiny aspect of it--the night boat. He talks about a sort of poetic displacement throughout the essay--or identity and displacement, how poetry sort of fills in the empty spaces--but it's more complicated than that. Poetry displaces identity, we write about where we are no longer, about where we'd like to be--or this, "So how does a poem work then in the pressure of that simultaneous desire to keep secret and tell everything?" This seems to me to be a type of displacement: you can't keep secret what you tell, you can't tell and then hide or efface.

About the night boat, he says this: "When I went back to Marseille to catch the night boat I forgot to bring money on board with me and forgot to order dinner for myself. There was no way to feed myself once the boat set sail. So hungry to the point of distraction I prowled the upper decks, watching the coast disappear into blue darkness. Eventually I did sleep and woke up in another country. I am still so intrigued by that image of the night boat--a vessel that takes you from one place to another without your participation, possibly even against your will; but your new condition of course is not escapable."

I am on a night boat right now. Or rather, perhaps, I have just stepped off the night boat and am in the other country, one I didn't know I was headed toward. I think the night boat can be one you don't even know you're on.

Other thoughts: trying to figure out the proper balance between punctuation and lack thereof in my poems. I've been stubbornly resisting it now for a while--because it was getting in the way when I drafted, and, also, I wanted the challenge of making a line cohere and move without punctuation--to make it alive in a different way. But after working with an editor on a poem that she wanted when she heard me read it, but turned out to need different sorts of inflections on the printed page, I am trying to think the problems through again. I revised this particular one using lineation, stanzaic form, line breaks. But what happens if I use punctuation only sparingly? Can that work as well?

In an interview in American Poet, Carl Phillips says something interesting about punctuation--something about it being necessary but only sparingly, something about it needing to speak as much as a word does. That is, I took from this the idea for my own work that punctuation need not be grammatical, but must be active. Punctuation is really only an invention of the last couple of centuries--standard punctuation, that is. It exists in earlier texts, but to mark breathing and pauses, not necessarily in the strict grammar and syntactical relationships that we give it today. This enables our workaday prose to be clear, but I am not convinced it translates to grammatical necessity in poetry. I'm trying to reconsider this particular poem of mine, "The Riders." We'll see.

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