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Bringing together penetrating conversations between poets of different generations as they explore process and poetics, poetry’s influence on other art forms, and the political and social aspects of their work, 12 × 12 restores poesis to the center of poetry.
Christina Mengert and Joshua Marie Wilkinson have assembled an expansive and searching view of the world through the eyes of twenty-four of our most vital and engaging poets. Punctuated by poems from each contributor, 12 × 12 brings together an unparalleled range of poets and poetries, men and women from around the world, working poets for whom the form vitally matters.
Jennifer K. Dick-Laura Mullen Jon Woodward-Rae Armantrout Sabrina Orah Mark-Claudia Rankine Christina Hawkey-Tomaž Šalamun Christine Hume-Rosemarie Waldrop Srinkath Reddy-Mark Levine Karen Volkman-Allen Grossman Paul Fattaruso-Dara Wier Mark Yakich-Mary Leader Michelle Robinson-Paul Auster Sawako Nakayasu-Carla Harryman Ben Lerner-Aaron Kunin
POEMS BY JENNIFER K. DICK
Some words I know: scapula, ventricle, organ, liver, femur. The body pieced back. The body pieced. The body in
Let's begin simply. Locate the ____________________
A reference point, as when we stretch our heads back to see clearly the pole wobbling in the grasp - and the feet? Somewhere, at first beyond vision, the cornea taking in light, adjusting until the line between tightrope and toe, heel, ankle, thigh, hip, waist, chest - in, out - neck then head wobbling eyes eyeing out of sight the white pole
where. we meet. An interstice - two perpendicular lines. Completely still that instant all eyes fix
As here, his voice behind my own larynx vibrating behind me eyeing the rail, no, between the rails, the wooden crossties. Eyeing between. My voice eyeing, eyes eyeing me and it was there, slowing, our train so that
In the Garden
She comes into vanishing words. Scintillating, rounding the hollow vowels she whispers against to re-evoke peaceful views. Forgetting eaves, she scavenges in her throat. Turns her back in sleep, closes the vast plains like musk. Herself mixing with his. Forgets the body. Languagebefore in that other breast, bending, flower blooming against his breath. Her distaste, body sweat, wants the first apple rounding smooth as a poison icicle. She mouths the rotund, opening mouth over him, eyes trying her childhood. Great barriers against salt. Her ejaculation returning to Eve. Before the woman's palm, to taste of it.
The small girl, the night "Claudia" her name becomes. Mosaics echo a song, perhaps another place. She imagines the pile of perfume, scarves, table, the bare leather clogs, inhales orange burnt-out. Unlatched. "Shhhh" she calls in the holding. The "u" nebulous, cumulous with her plaintive something. Here the springs of incense, beaded, draped over the middle of "owd" i.a.: so that rainmaking, the voice is, perhaps, needed. In next-door creek, jewelry, bottles, small seagreen bureau or perhaps slim burning. She, nose of the, and with a sign. Dark hallway. The small girl with her feet pat-patters.
JENNIFER K. DICK AND LAURA MULLEN IN CONVERSATION
JD: I was thinking, this being a collection of younger poets and their "in- fluences," we might start on the topic of influence.
LM: I keep hearing the words under the word - don't you? "Influence" is itself influenced, coming from an Italian word for the outbreak of a disease (influenza, outbreak, meaning here a breaking into the body). The idea of influence as that which flows across - permeates - the boundaries of self-hood: suddenly "I" and "you" are a little less safely separate. Whether it's a successful use of your will upon another (How to Win Friends and Influence People ...) or whether it's a virus, it's still going where it's not supposed to go, you know? By which I mean to say it is a very interesting topic to have chosen. In art we have a certain acceptance of the fact of influence (it happens, you can trace it, talk about it), but in the world, the fact that the well-guarded borders of the intact individual fail has a darker glow.
JD: Yes, it is traceable, and so we backtrack like epidemiologists trying to locate a poet's source infections! Thus I would start here by asking you to do that epidemiological work for me. In other words, who are some writers that you feel influence you now, and who were some that influenced you when you started writing, and at the stages when you first published a book?
LM: I'm very responsive, reactive, permeable (and willful); I'm sure I'm always being influenced. The question is indeed the one you ask: by whom and when (along with the question of how). So any list I make here is going to leave way too many writers, artists, lovers and landscapes out! But influencing me since I first saw the work would be a list of mostly women in order of appearance: Sylvia Plath, John Ashbery, Jorie Graham, Carol Snow, D. A. Miller, Joseph Lease, Carole Maso, Brenda Hillman, Rikki Ducornet, Erin Mouré, Gertrude Stein. That's a timeline, by the by; you can see it in the work. But "influence," as the word implies, flows! I've been influenced by my students - the people I'm supposed to be influencing, right? I have a very strong, brilliant slam poet student here at Louisiana State University and I just wrote (after an independent study on slam poetry with her last spring, and having gone to local slams because of her) a slam poem. My joke is "Yeah, I wrote this, but it's your poem!" (She goes by Dr. Madelyn Hatter on myspace.com.) But maybe it's because I'm a huge Anne Waldman fan and have been reading In the Room of Never Grieve? Influence is like paternity: without DNA testing it's hard to be sure exactly who, what, when, and how. And the truth is that I hope not to influence my students in any direct way; it makes me so sad when you can tell that X student studied with Y teacher because X writes watered-down Y-ish poetry. So it almost seems as if successful teaching teaches students to resist influence? (I always tell students that part of what they will learn in workshop is when to say, No way! I'm not changing this at all!)
JD: So do you think that influences are (too) important? Or that in fact they aren't given enough importance nowadays? For myself, I have always tended to think of influence as, first, an awareness that writing and attention to words exist. For me, that started with Dickinson and a high school teacher who turned me on to her and to poetry in general. Then, as one begins to actually write, I began to see influence like a painter might - looking to writers and classics and traditions to learn technique, gestures, ways to use syntax, grammar, and vocabulary, and also as lessons in knowing what has already been done and therefore has lost its interest or would be seen as simple imitation or déjà vu - what I'd also call writing like one's teachers in the context of MFA or literary studies, as you've mentioned. Now, however, influence comes to me more in other art forms than in writing, yet reading continues to constantly impact how and what I write in littler ways than it at first did, milder ways than when I was younger, placing me more in a space of dialogue with and expansion off of what has been or is now being written.
LM: I think that the pressure on modern art to "make it new" has made the suspect side of "influence" (in its roots) more present for us. We are afraid of "catching" something from what we read, see, get involved with somehow. I vividly recall Robert Pinsky telling his students not to worry about writing like the people they were reading, it was the people they weren't reading ... that was who they might be imitating, and they wouldn't know. It's a wonderful image, don't you think? Ghostly! Spooky! I haven't read Kafka for a decade: maybe he's running me (or I'm running him, the Kafka bug) right now. I do have outbreaks of others, we might say. Nathaniel Hawthorne is chronic; I've got a touch of Henry James I just can't shake - not even a heavy dose of French feminism could cure that "flu." But I love that you bring in other mediums (even the word "medium" - it's the place where the boundary between self and other, self and world, must be permeable); this is why my books always end (now) with long lists of names. I have so many "influences" I am grateful to - as diverse as Eve Aschheim, Jean-Luc Godard, and Hole.
JD: Film, music, pop culture - these are "influences" some would certainly tend to see as infections, necessary to eradicate, as if terminal - risky (or unpoetic). Despite all that's happened over the past century, they still seek a poetry that they perceive will speak across timelines, into a future where the reader won't know or "get" Hole. What would you say to a reader who discourages such pop music and film culture references, or to a writer who shies away from them in fear of ostracizing a reader?
LM: Ah, but we don't have a crystal ball, do we? I mean, I was going to say, how do you know what will last "across timelines" and what won't? Take that crystal ball, for instance (please): Eliot was taking quite a risk to introduce his tacky faddish "famous clairvoyant" into a poem, the same kind of risk Dante took, deciding to write in the vernacular, but it turns out that Latin's the dead language, right? And Frank O'Hara, whose work might be characterized - arguably - as a list of ephemera, turns out to be one of the most important, influential poets of his generation. We don't know what will last ("what thou lovest well remains," those words from Pound come back to me), and we write, as Cecilia Vicuña says, to find out what poetry can be.
JD: In your most recent work, it seems to me that you are constantly also in dialogue with writings and reflections of others, yet they've become wholly your own and are your voice in your poems. Do you yourself see/ feel that, and do you see it as different from the relationship you had with influence when writing your first book (The Surface)?
LM: I think you are really putting your finger on an important distinction when you change "influence" to "dialogue." With Subject I am in conversation with Stein in many ways and responsive to Charles Olson's pressure to use the whole page, and I'm teasing Eliot and citing O'Hara and George Oppen straight-faced ... but an increasing (if increasingly desperate) reliance on my own vision allows me to do that. As for The Surface, I like that book, but I can't think of it without thinking of Kaspar Hauser (in the Peter Handke play) reeling around repeating "I want a sentence like somebody else had once." I'm probably murdering that - from memory - quote. It's solid, that collection, it makes some useful discoveries, but I wanted a poem not too different from poems other somebodies had once. In Fluorescence you leaped over that step - I'd love to hear you talk about how you managed that.
JD: Wow, I guess I take that as a compliment, since in ways I do relate still to that "I want a sentence like somebody else had once" - fearing being too far from the fold. But as with most poets, the problem is we often fail to blend (are "left of center" to take up that Suzanne Vega lyric that has haunted me since high school!). Maybe we're just too dissatisfied - wanting something more, needing what we still can't express and thus strive towards. So even when we are trying desperately to match, our spots show (as Ani DiFranco put it). Concretely, I think that aiming for the sentence I knew, the ones I felt for, I still wanted it to take a little detour on the way, to explore itself. In Fluorescence, influence, striving toward dialogue, does still show some of its imprints - Steinian and Christophe Tarkos-like syntax or repetitions and reflections, stretching between a concrete abstract that I sense in Michael Palmer, or stealing outright the images I spent so much time examining in the Breugel works that I reference for certain poems. But I think my mind mixes and melds too easily. Influenza is usually a traceable strain, but I remember being a teenager with mono and learning that it was sometimes hard to diagnose since so many other viruses got into the mix. In Fluorescence, Palmer meets Stein meets Breugel meets Rauschenberg meets Laynie Brown, Carol Snow, Carole Maso, John Ashbery, Cole Swensen, Laura Mullen, Keith Donovan, Julie Brown and, less evidently, the rhythmic influences ingrained in my head by years as a Joseph Brodsky student reading lyric and Russian poetry by Robert Frost, W. H. Auden, Dylan Thomas, A. E. Housman, Anna Akhmatova, Osip Mandelstam, Boris Pasternak, Marina Tsvetaeva, etc. We are a sum of what we have read, seen, and thought, and I think the poems in Fluorescence reflect a sum of influence rather than, I hope, being distinct imitations of someone else.
LM: Hmmm - sounds like a "some" rather than a "sum," or that's what I think(s). What is it Rimbaud said -"If brass wakes a trumpet that's not its fault"? Do we, making our trumpet out of the brass that is language, just pour out "brass" (music) for others to melt down, meld with, melody off of? Whose trumpet are we holding, heated to liquid and flowing, to our lips? I do have a strong sense that it would be wrong not to know, and, not (where you can) to credit. But Murmur, the book coming out in the spring, is a murder mystery, and it's full, on the level of the language itself, of murder, dismemberment, and theft.
JD: This also makes me think of the question of "appropriation of language" of which you and I have spoken before. Is it possible to be appropriating the language of someone else? Is there a distinguishable line between a poem you write and a text you have used to write it? And how do we locate or define this line, or must we? (This seems to me less appropriately addressed to your work than to other people working in the States that we've talked of or have seen the work of - for example, Susan Howe, Carla Harryman, Carol Snow, Stacy Doris, etc.) I also think of this in relationship to my recent Circuits manuscript and its use of the popular science text by George Johnson that they fragment and play off of.
LM: You know, I was just wondering if my work will be more "mine" the more there is of others in it. I'm laughing - but I'm serious. As my work gets more collage-y, it gets more original? Rosmarie Waldrop has that extraordinary essay ("Alarums & Excursions") in The Politics of Poetic Form, where she seems to lay out a basis for the inevitability of that paradox. What's engrossing about this issue right now, nationally, is the question of permissions and intellectual property. All language is "appropriated," obviously - but at what point we violate copyright law remains a question of some urgent complexity. Carol Snow's The Seventy Prepositions includes a group of poems (the "Karesansui") in which quoted (recalled or thought) language is arranged (as are stones in a Zen garden) to emerge like solid peaks from the flow of clouds or water around them, the ongoing, always-in-motion thinking. To use, in that context, a few words from The Sound of Music costs money. That's the "distinguishable line between a poem you write and a text you have used to write it" - at least legally! To go back to your question about Circuits: scientists, in my experience, find their research used in a poem charming - but I haven't been breaking state secrets. What is your experience with this appropriation? And perhaps this is a good point to draw another distinction: neither appropriation nor dialogue seem to me to be "influence" (though they might be symptoms of influence). What do you think?
JD: Tough delineation! And I laugh, as I initially mistyped "touch" - this is the issue really, no, to touch delineation? To be able to see things as separate from when we speak of the question of appropriation? To whom does the language belong? Who is speaking in this "dialogue"? Let's draw lines! Have you ever had a critic (since I think it is via critics, via being explored and read critically, for better and worse, that questions of influence and appropriation most often arise) "accuse" you of being too influenced by a poem or a poet you have never yourself read, or at least don't recall? How did this make you feel? Do you feel that a writer should let a critic know they are off base, misreading your influences? Or does this misreading enter into the realm of enlarging the poetic dialogue, that by seeing strains of connection, quotes, echoes, etc., that you were yourself not conscious of, the critic opens the realm of potentially subconscious influence and also, therefore, dialogue - a dialogue that leads a writer (and reader) back to other authors and books, to other voices?
LM: Don't you distrust lines drawn ("in the sand," for instance, as the first Bush said), and attempts to control readings? I do! Your questions made me recall the fact that Laura Riding Jackson used to write to anyone who read her work to correct their misunderstandings. That seems as awful, to me, as the fact that Bill Knott writes in and on, actually, his books, endlessly revising his poems. The two gestures seem similar to me in ways I'm not sure I can explain. One of the things I'm really dealing with in Subject (by enacting it) is the ongoing dialogue between the two mutually exclusive impulses: to contain, and to continue. What isn't a revision? What isn't a misreading? The revised answer to your questions is that I once got a bad review of The Tales of Horror in which the critic - another poet - and the magazine's editor missed the fact of collage and they tore into William Carlos Williams, or rather the critic Williams was (in Paterson) quoting! So a bad review got a bad review: "It is a fashionable grocery list." Hilarious, in a way. But as Roland Barthes says in S/Z, we write our reading. Don't you find that great criticism is as active, as influential, as poetry?
Excerpted from 12 X 12 Copyright © 2009 by University of Iowa Press. Excerpted by permission.
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Jennifer K . Dick | Laura Mullen Poems by Jennifer K. Dick Anatomy 2
In the Garden 3
Jennifer K. Dick and Laura Mullen in Conversation Poem by Laura Mullen Wake 14
Jon Woodward | Rae Armantrout Poems by Jon Woodward from Rain: “newer sore spots blossomed open” 20
from Rain: “looking over the bomb inventory” 20
from Rain: “it’s not that he died” 21
Jon Woodward and Rae Armantrout in Conversation Poems by Rae Armantrout Sake 35
The Subject 36
Worth While 37
Sabrina Orah Mark | Claudia Rankine Poems by Sabrina Orah Mark The Dumb Show 40
The Song 41
In the Origami Fields 42
Sabrina Orah Mark and Claudia Rankine in Conversation Poems by Claudia Rankine from Don’t Let Me Be Lonely: “Or Paul Celan said that . . .” 51
from Don’t Let Me Be Lonely: “Or one meaning of here is . . .” 51
from Plot: of course. of course. 52
Christian Hawkey | Tomaž Šalamun Poems by Christian Hawkey Fräulein, can you 54
There is a Queen inside 55
Unhoused casements 56
Christian Hawkey and Tomaž Šalamun in Conversation Poems by Tomaž Šalamun
Spring Street 69
Christine Hume | Rosmarie Waldrop Poems by Christine Hume Comprehension Questions 72
What Became of the Company You’ve Kept,
According to One Who Left 74
Christine Hume and Rosmarie Waldrop in Conversation Poem by Rosmarie Waldrop Music Is an Oversimplification of the Situation We’re In 89
Srik Anth Reddy | Mark Levine Poems by Srikanth Reddy Evening with Stars 96
Hotel Lullaby 97
Corruption (II) 98
Srikanth Reddy and Mark Levine in Conversation Poems by Mark Levine Work Song 114
Counting the Forests 115
Karen Volkman |Allen Grossman Poems by Karen Volkman Sonnet (“I asked every flower”) 120
“Although the paths lead into the forest . . .” 121
“And when the nights . . .” 122
Karen Volkman and Allen Grossman in Conversation Poems by Allen Grossman Rain on a Still Pond 131
“Warble,” Says the Bird 132
I Am That I AM 133
Sawako Nakayasu | Carla Harryman Poems by Sawako Nakayasu
Sawako Nakayasu and Carla Harryman in Conversation Poems by Carla Harryman from Baby: “Now. Word. Technology.” 170
Fish Speech 170
Paul Fattaruso | Dara Wier Poem by Paul Fattaruso from The Submariner’s Waltz:
“I opened the brushed steel box” 176
Paul Fattaruso and Dara Wier in Conversation Poems by Dara Wier Hypnagogic 189
Mark Yakich | Mary Leader Poems by Mark Yakich Pretzels Come to America 196
An Untenable Nostalgia for Chernobyl 197
Mark Yakich and Mary Leader in Conversation Poem by Mary Leader When the Wind Ever Shall Be Like a Black Thread 217
Michelle Robinson | Paul Auster Poems by Michelle Robinson From This Miserable Mutineer a Stutter . . . 222
When Smithson Looked into the Salt Lake What He Saw 224
Michelle Robinson and Paul Auster in Conversation Poems by Paul Auster Narrative 234
from “White Spaces”: “Something happens,
and from the moment” 235
Ben Lerner | Aaron Kunin Poems by Ben Lerner from The Lichtenberg Figures: “We must retract our . . .” 238
from The Lichtenberg Figures: “I’m going to kill . . .” 238
from The Lichtenberg Figures: “The sky is a big . . .” 239
Ben Lerner and Aaron Kunin in Conversation Poems by Aaron Kunin Enclosed Please Find 251
Enclosed Please Find 252
The Sore Throat 253
Contributors Acknowledgments and Permissions Index
Posted December 31, 2010
No text was provided for this review.