Thursday, January 29, 2009

Access and antithesis

The world is briefly frozen in place.  Otherwise, it would fly apart.  I cut a fennel bulb in half this evening, in between the stalks and through the center.  From a triangular core, the strata of the plant piles in convex layers outward and then upward in shoots and fronds.  I thought about whether it looked like a brain, and the nub of the core like a brainstem.   And when the core was removed, the layers fell apart and scattered like beach shells.

The last week has scattered a bit like that.  The weekend shapes up and it looks as though the parts of the week will cohere, perhaps not in a linear, day by day fashion, but at least as a series of overlapping events and connections.  Then there are snow days and the core falls out, and the children and the laundry and the email and the work projects end up disconnected and scattered.

I read the first poem in Ron Silliman's "the Alphabet" last week, and am still going over it and my response to it.  The first poem is "Albany," a place close to where I grew up, a place I've never really visited, but driven through or around over and over through the box of highways that join I-87, the Northway, and the highway west to Buffalo or east to Boston that I never take.  

Of course, this doesn't matter.  It's a relatively long prose poem, and its method is disjuncture.  But through the sentences that connect, because, well, we read across and down the page, and reflect one another or do not reflect one another, there are hubs: sentences that touch on similar topics or observations or images.  So, like the best of anything postmodern I've read, David Antin or Anne Carson or Lyn Hejinian, you read both forward in the time-space that is reading, and also to the center and back out again.  This latter motion is like a transportation hub, in that thoughts like vehicles move inward and outward, but it's also like threading a needle and sewing.  Thoughts are like thread that loops through an opening, and a good stitch moves forward a bit, but hooks or loops or threads back through the trail of its own passing.

On the one hand, as Dean Young might say, asking what the point of a poem is might be the same as asking whether a peach tree has a point.  Which is entirely the delight of this type of work.  I don't feel lead to a conclusion, and I don't feel as though everything must be in order.  My mind is freed to wander among the sentences, the ideas, the images, and truly enter the work.  

One of the things that I've discovered about myself over the last few years is that postmodern or avant garde work means something to me on an emotional level.  Which may not be the intent of such work, but I'll come to art as a barbarian any day if I can walk away with something that I, alone, value.  

Writing as disjuncture makes emotional sense to me, and there are times I can't convey that or explain that with some of my work or reactions to work.  That life is a set of fragments, pulled together by sheer will or by semi-passive gathering, makes sense to me.  Robert is a collection of actions, motivations, and disconnections that feels real to me: a real person who can't speak or act for himself, yet he does "act" and "speak."  It's just not that the gestures or sounds or expressions that he makes can be packaged as narrative experience.  There are times at which the disjunctures, the re-routings of these poetic techniques feel viscerally an expression of disability--of circuitous routes toward a goal, of marching around a building or through a metro looking for a ramp or a method of access.  

People talk often about whether poetry is accessible.  Well, the life we live is certainly a search for "access," yet the act of access (physical, emotional, spiritual) for ourselves and Robert is never sustaining or final.  It's lengthy, imperfect, circuitous.  And the relief one feels on finding the accessible entrance to the building is often short-lived as one contemplates the next set of barriers within the building.

So I'm not bothered, with a disabled child in tow or pushed in front of me, or for that matter, I'm not confused or misdirected by what should make sense and doesn't.  Steps, the logical upward platonic climb toward semantic nirvana, are just a set of useless barriers to us.  "Sense" or semantics is narrative, linear.  "Non-sense" is a series of unanticipated forays and paths through a sense-like series of signs that are rearranged or missing.  Both the strain and the weird delight of this non-sense is not just a theory for me, or us, but lived daily experience.  And I'm getting comfortable here.  May as well stay.


Elizabeth said...

I love how you weave together those things that you know best. How beautiful to see analogy in poetry. And all beginning with the cut fennel bulb...

kate hopper said...

This--your writing, your post--makes so much sense to me, Jeneva. And this post makes me realize I have been away from poetry too long. Thank you for the reminder.

Leightongirl said...

Am I in awe of your ability to connect and make me think, remind me of how words and images matter, that an emotional response to the post modern is proof enough that it matters, and that time and space can bend? Yes, I am. But even more I am in awe of the fact that you purchase and cook fennel.

jeneva said...

Thanks to you all for the great comments! V-I'm LOL at the fennel comment! You can roast apple, fennel, and red onion together--very good. 2 braeburn or tart apples sliced, 1 large fennel bulb thinly sliced (and cored), 1 large red onion thinly sliced. Toss with 1 T of canola or olive oil, spread on baking sheet, put in 475 degree oven, roast for 30-35 minutes, stirring once. The recipe also involves pork loin (you all are veg, right?) and deglazing a pan with 3 T cider vinegar, which you then add to the vegetables. I think you could gently heat 2-3 T cider vinegar and add to make it vegetarian. I also have a salad recipe that involves fennel--let me know if you want it!