Site Meter Peculiar Susceptibility: October 2007

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Histories and Prostheses

I don't know why it hadn't occurred to me yet. In the wee hours of yesterday morning, after the cat had started her autumn routine of waking me up at 5 am for food, I knew (with the certainty that one knows things in the early morning) what my next book of poems would be.

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Had I continued my graduate education, I would have written my dissertation on cultural representations of memory in contemporary African literature and art. I was interested in instances in which we need to represent—even construct from time to time—collective memories. It seemed to me that, at times, we focus these collective memories on the experiences of individuals, rather than groups. So, the memorializing that happens around, say, the horrors of Apartheid, gets represented in individual testimony (Sue Williamson's Can't Remember, Can't Forget), descriptions of torture (as in JM Coetzee's novels), etc.

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Sue Williamson. Can't Remember Can't Forget (installation view).

Perhaps it's not surprising, given my academic inclinations, that the poetry I tend to most enjoy reading is poetry that investigates individual histories. I'm thinking here of Natasha Trethewey, Marilyn Nelson, Eavan Boland, Seamus Heaney (at times), Elizabeth Alexander, et al.

When histories get reoriented to be primarily about an individual (rather than a group, or nation, or culture, for instance), they lose some of their facticity, they start treading close to that most unreliable of faculties, Memory. Histories, conventionally, are meant to be fairly solid claims about things and places and events and people. Again, conventionally, there's meant to be some degree of objectivity to it all. Memories, on the other hand, are radically subjective, shifting, fluid cognitive representations of things.

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Poetry is another one of those unreliably subjective things. When history, then, finds its way into poetry, the polar relationship between the subjective and objective begins to crumble. That kind of crisis of polarity interests me. As I was thinking about it, it occurred to me that poetry can serve as this prosthesis for memory, whether they're individual or collective memories (hence the abundance of memorializing poetry).

The new book will be a collection of poems that perform that function: poems that have a prosthetic relationship to memory, both collective and personal.

I'm really excited about it.

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Wall of prosthetic faces for injured veterans of World War I.

Friday, October 26, 2007


I'm clumsy. In this case I don't mean gauche (although it's a lovely word and I am certainly capable of gauche behavior or accessorizing or decorating from time to time). I also don't mean unwieldy (although some of my exes may disagree). No, what I mean is that I am, quite simply, ungainly.

A couple months ago, I started a sticky note that lists incidents of clumsiness.

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There was the time I burnt the inside of my left arm - this is embarrassing - while putting late night tater tots onto a plate.

There was the time I cut into the palm of my hand using, yes, a large kitchen knife to cut open an english muffin. (Sensible, wasn't that? I thought, at the time, that I was being very efficient, not dirtying another dish.)

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There was the time that I swung my knees into my desk drawers when rotating in my chair. (There is a tally of seven next to that item.)

There was the time, last week that I was peeling apples Pat and I had just picked at Crooke's Orchard to make applesauce. I got just about through the whole couple dozen before the knife slipped, with no insignificant force, into the tip of my middle finger. It's mostly healed at this point, only I seem to have played with ink when it was still an open wound, thereby inadvertently tattooing the tip of my finger.

But there's only so much one can fit on a sticky. And my desk has already become what Melissa calls "Pink Explosion" (see above).

I started the sticky because at a certain point my proclivity for accidental minor injury struck me as poetic. There's something inescapable about incidents of clumsiness. They scream "Be here!" when one would otherwise be going about one's life with a certain amount of disassociation. I think poetry can do the same thing (although it tends to leave less permanent marks on one's body).

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Caddis Fly Larvae

Periodically, during the past several months, I've returned to this video.

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I really have a hard time putting into words the way I react to this project by French artist Hubert Duprat. It's totally mystifying to me. Yes, there's a whole canon of theory on which I could draw to talk about these larvae. But I really don't like to respond to them with something as easy as theory. It ends up feeling very utilitarian.

The truth of the matter is that I really love the way certain things confound my intellect.