FEED: Tonight I’m lucky enough to be going to hear Anne Carson, who is currently the Distinguished Poet-in-Residence in the NYU Creative Writing Program. What she does with language is almost impossible to describe; I’d like to share some of my favorite lines from my favorite of her book-length works, The Autobiography of Red, but (a) they are too strange completely out of context and you wouldn’t be able to see their proper strangeness, and (b) I’m in NYC and my book is in Austin and I only read poetry in real book form. First, Book of Isaiah:
Book of Isaiah, Part I (Anne Carson)
Isaiah awoke angry.
Lapping at Isaiah’s ears black birdsong no it was anger.
God had filled Isaiah’s ears with stingers.
Once God and Isaiah were friends.
God and Isaiah used to converse nightly, Isaiah would rush into the garden.
They conversed under the Branch, night streamed down.
From the sole of the foot to the head God would make Isaiah ring.
Isaiah had loved God and now his love was turned to pain.
Isaiah wanted a name for the pain, he called it sin.
Now Isaiah was a man who believed he was a nation.
Isaiah called the nation Judah and the sin Judah’s condition.
Inside Isaiah God saw the worldsheet burning.
Isaiah and God saw things differently, I can only tell you their actions.
Isaiah addressed the nation.
Man’s brittleness! cried Isaiah.
The nation stirred in its husk and slept again.
Two slabs of bloody meat lay folded on its eyes like wings.
Like a hard glossy painting the nation slept.
Who can invent a new fear?
Yet I have invented sin, thought Isaiah, running his hand over the knobs.
And then, because of a great attraction between them—
which Isaiah fought (for and against) for the rest of his life—
God shattered Isaiah’s indifference.
God washed Isaiah’s hair in fire.
God took the stay.
From beneath its meat wings the nation listened.
You, said Isaiah.
I cannot hear you, Isaiah spoke again under the Branch.
Light bleached open the night camera.
God smashed Isaiah like glass through every socket of his nation.
Liar! said God.
Isaiah put his hands on his coat, he put his hand on his face.
Isaiah is a small man, said Isaiah, but no liar.
And so that was their contract.
Brittle on both sides, no lying.
Isaiah’s wife came to the doorway, the doorposts had moved.
What’s that sound? said Isaiah’s wife.
The fear of the Lord, said Isaiah.
He grinned in the dark, she went back inside.
“Depression is one of the unknown modes of being.
There are no words for a world without a self, seen with impersonal clarity.
All language can register is the slow return
to oblivion we call health when imagination automatically recolors the landscape
and habit blurs perception and language
takes up its routine flourishes.”
“…..in that blurred state between awake and asleep when too many intake valves are open in the soul. Like the terrestrial crust of the earth which is proportionately 10 times thinner than an eggshell, the skin of the soul is a miracle of mutual pressures. Millions of kilograms of force pounding up from earth’s core on the inside to meet the cold air of the world and stop as we do, just in time.”
What she does with language can be astonishing. Here’s my short GoodReads review of Autobiography of Red — short, because I couldn’t properly put words to her words. Her startling use of language definitely feeds me.
SEED: This is a broad topic I think about a lot, the way very good things can come out of very bad things. I’ve thought about it my whole life, in terms of my near-fatal childhood; I value who I am, and who I am is a direct result of what I endured, so where does that leave me with an evaluation of my childhood? To play the silly game, if I could go back and time and give myself a different childhood, would I?
I think we’re in the same boat as a country now. I see good things emerging in this horrific political maelstrom. People are fighting, protesting, getting off their comfortable couches. More women are mobilizing for office than ever before. Etc etc etc. It isn’t that things were perfect while Obama was in office, and it isn’t that I agreed with all his decisions (I really didn’t, some more horribly than others like his bail-outs for the banks and his use of drones and his failure to close Guantanamo as he’d promised), but I was complacent. We all were complacent. And that complacency led us here, to the nightmare and also to the resistance, and the long-lasting consequences of the resistance — assuming our country and world survive, which is not at all guaranteed — will be good. Eventually. I’m thinking a lot about this as I look around. Are you?
READ: Read poetry. Last night I read a bit of Between the World and Me (Ta-Nehisi Coates), and he was talking about writing as a way to hone your thinking — and especially poetry. Here’s a relevant passage:
I was learning the craft of poetry, which really was an intensive version of what my mother had taught me all those years ago–the craft of writing as the art of thinking. Poetry aims for an economy of truth–loose and useless words must be discarded, and I found that these loose and useless words were not separate from loose and useless thoughts. Poetry was not simply the transcription of notions–beautiful writing rarely is. I wanted to learn to write, which was ultimately, still, as my mother had taught me, a confrontation with my own innocence, my own rationalizations. Poetry was the processing of my thoughts until the slag of justification fell away and I was left with the cold steel truths of life.
Read good poetry. I am not at all trained in poetry, but I think I have good taste somehow, because the poetry I love always turns out to be “good” poetry, so if you want to read poetry but don’t know where to start, get in touch and I’ll make some suggestions.