My Comments On Harryette Mullen, Flarf and More On Kasey Silem's Limetree
Or, La Duende. De La Otra. The Muse. The Great Whatever. I'm a poet. I don't insist. What do I know? I'm a bloody Heathen. And I resist.
"Poetry is the Soul inaugurating a form." ~ Gaston Bachelard
"Muse and Drudge" On, Y'all
(Harryette's definition of the poetic craft)
Michael & Kasey:
I forgot to say that Harryette is an old friend. We were housemates in Santa Cruz in the early '80s while I was working on my doctorate in History of Consciousness and she was in Literature. I knew her as a poet, although we were both too busy for poetry. She had just published Tree Tall Woman -- as I recall, it had a few Grandma poems. (One of the conditions of these class, race and gender distinctions is that it robs us of our change, we are either infantilized, sexualized, or ignored -- and guess which mode I prefer -- we continue to be judged on our juvenilia and earliest work. We lose the context of our traces.) I don't remember talking about this or poetry at all much. Racism, yes. Class and gender issues, you bet. (We lived in the Provost's home, in a house everyone referred to as "the radical women of color house" but to us, we were "The Sisters of the Yam" - yam culture being what defined and bonded us through our differences.) We talked a lot about music -- or, I did, rural black women's music being my passion; we both love Sarah Vaughn and Billie. Mostly, and most importantly, it was basking in the freedom to do and be whatever we wanted as an artist, and to dwell in the luxury of being able to (finally! ¡al fin!) transverse and converse more than the usual 45 degrees with someone. Someone with a mind like Harryette's, which is also, always charmingly, a fertile field cleared of the typical ego rubble.
I have long admired Harryette as a poet and thinker. I love Sleeping With the Dictionary and think S*PERM*k*t (or however that's laid out) is one of the literary events of the late 20th Century.
(You'd have to know me to know that I just did an imitation of Ron and am smiling mischievously.)
I haven't had the time to research any of the sources of that N=Wench poem and probably won't, as that doesn't interest me much (I won't with the long 86 poem series -- too scared of the subject matter.) But I knew as soon as I saw it that it may actually be one of her lines from Sleeping With the Dictionary. I read it like that, too, right away. That's partly why I really like the poem. I love those nickered nieces niggling for nickle (I added a k to "nickered" as one of the minimal edits, just for the sake of post/modern readability) and the whacked wenches wending. I'm pretty sure the niggling line is hers. But the census language is like that. And rural language, very poetic. Researching an unrelated topic, while doing a genealogical search and coming up empty for so long, in a fit of pique I typed in "Nigger Savage Wench" and BINGO, there was my subject listed as one of "3 pickininnies" found in the house in 1900 -- so I knew what I'd find by adding the word, census. Language, yes. Can it ever be defused from the charge of history and event? Can it be recharged, its value added to like a BART card in the machinery of critical enterprise at the end of the ride should the poem be lacking?
I don't know. What do I know? I'm just a poet (poetry, distinguished in the institutions as "creative writing" as opposed to "literature" which is prose or fiction) and all I know is you never know, ya know? And that's all I know: poetry.
In the least, we have the right to remain interesting.
Thanks, Michael, for long supporting good poets like Harryette. And, Nate Mackey. Talk about "Neglectorinos" - always a source of frustration to me when he, and Bob Kaufman, are always left out of the discourse.
The characterization -- generalization -- of figures in the l=a=n=g=u=a=g=e school, among other pomos (ain't that a tribe?) is, sadly, true, in my 30 years experience, most of that being on the West Coast. With the exception of a few: Howe, Hejinian (excuse the spelling, it's late and this is too long already), and Ron who I think is excellent as a poet, I've often said, for going on 3 decades now, longer than most of you have been alive, that the real art of these writers is the essay, and the poem as artifact dissolves away in the body politic like stitches which have served the wound. And the discourse is always at such a level that it is alienating to those cultures of repression -- those of us who were conquered by the "mongrel" book in one hand and a sword in the other.
Sorry Michael. I agree with others. The piece doesn't work - more essay than poem? I found it offensive, however mildly. But most importantly, not scrubbed enough (Intent? Voice? Who's on First?" Yes, Why? As such, it's a failure. But as a not very quiet poet of the SOQ drawer, Philip Levine, once wrote: Failure is integral to the process of poetry. It's okay. I do know and admire your other work, especially your actos, your deeds. I find a lot of the poems posted on Leevi's anthology really interesting; I can relax around the language -- take my sense=shoes off and sit a spell, listening to the music or just the twittering of the passing birds. But it's a bit like being confronted with DuChamp's toilet again: they don't make them like they used to or maybe this one's none too clean. Is it art? How Art Thou?
But I wouldn't want to offend you, or have you misunderstand, and it just takes so long to go on and on like this, but this is how it is, for someone once as old as you and facing the real possibility of "involuntary" sterilization for being a hippie which is, ironically, already a cultural appropriation of the Amer-Indian culture facing extinction. My nation having been legally "terminated"/ extinct until "rediscovered" around 1976 -- oops, they left some of us alive to breed. The sterilization "I" faced as a teen and young woman had I been out of work or school was an act of the word manifest into matter -- a real matter of someone's blade on me because of blood type math and language - with no hyphens or equal signs intended or extended. And what matter the taxidermy: "Niggler", "Sa(l)vage", "Wench -- a peasant child used for sex ... and all the words for "Mongrel Magee" and the "Mongoloid Races" in that unwritten dictionary of power and language -- and who gets to use them. Or, who's on first?
So I'm finding this and these discussion threads really interesting. Particularly since, for me, this helps me frame responses to whatever strummed the ugly chords of The Return of the Repressed over on Ron's blog after his review/s of Barbara Reyes. There's so much I want to respond to, finally! But I think it comes out in these new "poems." Like Flarf, life is just a series of cut-ups and freedom defined by whomever's hoarding the magazines.
The question remains: If freedom's just another word, than is "good enough" good enough for "me and" "Micky" or "Mongrel Magee?"
Thank you all, ones on other blogs as well, for this space to enter into this arena. For so many years it's been like being invited to get off the bench and join the boy's basketball team, but never getting the ball for being born too short for the action.
Posted by Lorna Dee Cervantes at June 2, 2006 01:45 AM