The deliciousness of Turkey Day approaches. I plan to watch Katie Couric's smiling mug emcee the parade while baking yummy muffins. I also plan to do a bunch of poetry-related stuff -- reading, editing, forcing copies of Abecedarium on Mark's horrified relatives. It shall be glorious!
Many hopes that your own ritual foisting of yams and suchlike upon those you are tied to by blood and love proceeds smoothly and with an almost somnambulatory grace . . .
I just installed a sitetracker. I had one of these things on the blog I had prior to this one, and had forgotten just how fascinating they are, especially since I can't be bothered to poke through my referrer logs. I just keep checking to see if I've had any more visitors, or where they're from, or what search terms they used to get here . . .
I'm aiming to do more chapbook reviews in the near future. Actually writing a review forces me to reread, making it more likely that I will understand and gain sympathy for the writer's project. I know people who say they read every poem three times. Yikes. I don't. Instead, I tend to read 'em once, and if I don't get it immediately, I just toss it aside. I was wondering why this is, and am forced to conclude that I think that I am so smart that if I don't understand it on the first read, then there must be nothing to understand. Eek. Resolving to do (be) better.
The Union soldier has retreated to an arboreal position. Strangely, he appears to have aimed his rifle at the tank's glass wall, rather than at the remaining Confederate. Perhaps he is fighting a personal, existential war against his own limitations? Symbolic!
Meanwhile, Clarence searches the battlefield in order to pick rings and other valuables off the corpses of those killed in action.
At the southern university I attended, a satirical student magazine once published a fake ad for a computer game. In the background -- a decrepit plantation house. In the foreground, the pipe-smoking head of William Faulkner, with a little speech bubble, in which the author declared, "Hello theah, Ah'm William Faulkner, and welcome ta Sim Yoknapatawpha. Just click on tha miscegenation windaw to start." At the bottom of the ad, the text ran in bold letters: "YOU control the racial tension and incest that will destroy this small southern community!"
This, alas, is the cartoonish Faulkner that lingers on in the heads of students forced to read his work at gradepoint. My own memories of my tenth grade class's reading of "As I Lay Dying" are mostly notable for the fact that for a month or so, all the boys were yelling, "My mama's a fish!" as a sort of greeting.
Gabriella Torres' new chapbook "Sister," the first publication from Lame House Press, pushes right past all that, and into the Faulkner you don't consciously remember (at least if your exposure to him was limited to school reading lists). Instead, it draws out the timbre of the southern gothic -- the disconnected images of danger that thrive lushly in a backdrop of honeysuckle and kudzu -- and plays with the repetition of words and sounds to re-enact a past, that, as Faulkner himself once described the past of the South, "isn't over. It's not even past."
I had initial reservations, stemming mostly from an adverse reaction to the "props" that sixth generation southern gothica carries -- all that honeysuckle and hoopskirts seems like a cardboard-and-foam prop set, instant atmosphere without any discernible substance. There can be a certain cheapness in such work -- reveling in romanticized decadence, but declining to delve into any underpinning reality. But although atmosphere does a lot of work here, the poems are more than style . . . they are truly creepy, and tender, too.
"You were a tragedy long before you were a girl."
The exact mechanisms of the tragedy aren't completely clear here (although they may be obvious to readers of "The Sound and the Fury," the book on which these poems are based). My scanty Faulkner doesn't matter terribly, though, because the poems create a sense of intercepted space between speaker and the sister who is addressed -- like peeking into someone else's attic photo album, you learn more than you might care to know, even without a guide.
As I mentioned before, repetition of words and images plays a large role here, tying each poem together and simultaneously destabilizing them, almost as if the speaker is redrafting his own memories with each new poem. And the speaker appears to admit to as much, saying:
"I have reinvented you in translation."
Words from one poem rearrange themselves into wholly new sentences in each succeeding poem, pulling together scraps into a patchwork narrative. This is a very short book -- eight prose poems in all, but even in that short space, Torres manages to craft a tight little universe that aches. The reasons are elusive, but the pain is not, and is expressed in revelations that negate everything that has come before.
"You never had a sister."
How to wrap something like this up? The answer, again echoing Faulkner's statement on the past, is not to, instead letting the work linger out in diminishing distances, and decreasing angles. The promise of nothing being over, but nothing really changing hangs over the work, and is nowhere more apparent than at its end:
"There are no heroes here. Just the waking of lost feet rising through the echoes to settle on the dust."
Saturday I sat around listening to The Jam and missing New York. Then I went Xmas shopping and realized that M Street in Georgetown is basically Broadway between 10th and Houston, except worse.
They need a Bloomie's Soho in Georgetown. I need one place I can go and buy everything at once so I don't have go to store to store and meet/deal with all the horrid people there (mostly sixteen year old girls with Uggs and ear-piercingly loud cell phone conversations).
This means, what? I've gone and become elderly, haven't I? Adult, at least. I listen to NPR and believe in the powers of bran.
Sunday was better. Made some poetic progress. Got all my Xmas card envelopes addressed. And then I went and heard some actual poetry: Kristen Gallagher, Barbara Cole, and Lauren Bender at DCAC. Afterwards, I went and hung out with the poet people at Asylum, which is an absurd theme bar that looks like Frankenstein's castle. But yay for poets and chili fries. Hopefully, I will have a little something on the reading later. But now I have to get out the door for work.
It looks like a Hawthorne novel outside today.
* (overheard in the office)