April 27, 2021

Docu-poetry and Investigative Poetry

Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar












According to Poetry River, "Documentary poems combine primary source material with poetry writing. Myriad sources inspire documentary poetry, including news articles, letters, photographs, dairies, court transcripts, medical records, and a variety of public records."  

It is similar to poetry of witness which expresses lived experience and direct observation by the poet. Muriel Rukeyser's Book of the Dead addressed a coal mine disaster in the 1930s. During WWI and WWII, Paul Celan is a poet of witness. In the 1970s, Carolyn Forché's book The Country Between Us left a strong mark on our culture. The Colonel is a prose poem example of this. It is reportage, her encounter with a colonel in Nicaragua who had collected the ears of people who had been tortured.  Investigative poetry similarly stems from a journalistic impulse, but the poem uses the tools of poetry: compression, image, sound, pattern.  When she published her book, it was sometimes criticized for being political. Attitudes toward political poetry have changed since then. In an interview published On the Seawall she says:

What I find now is that there’s been a great opening in the last 20 years, and poets are almost expected to address contemporary concerns. It’s almost the reverse of what it was before. We have emergent poetics among communities that were suppressed before: African-American poets, Asian-America poets, Indigenous poets of the First Nations, Latinx poets. I find that that’s where much of the most exciting work is being written, and they are quite politically aware in that work, although the work is not always expressive of political views.

There are many ways to address contemporary concerns. Layli Long Soldier's book Whereas, engages with a single document. A declaration made in 2007 by the US Congress, addressing the atrocities committed against Native Americans in the 1800s.  It is poetry in conversation with the document, reflecting and responding to its language and to the events which it refers (Graywolf Press) Her poem "38" is from this collection.  

Philip Metres, in the Kenyon Review, wrote: 

For me, the best documentary poems draw us back to the headwaters of poetry, where tribal elders, griots, troubadours, holy fools, tricksters, medicine men, witches, and shamans all do their work, comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable."

First, to use Muriel Rukeyser’s words, the poem can “extend the document,” thus giving second life to lost or expurgated histories...

"Second, the poem itself can be extended through the document, given a breadth or authority that the lyric utterance may not reach on its own. Documentary poetry comes out of a desire to break open what has often been seen as the monology of the lyric. While the lyric at its best can be subtly dialogic, negotiating self and other in nuanced ways, documentary poets are drawn to the chorale effect, employing multiple voices and voicings that merge into a larger (but often dissonant) symphony. Documentary and investigative poems that don’t simply “contain multitudes,” as Whitman boasted, but breathe and seethe multitudes."

Third, and finally, the practice of investigative poetics extends the very idea of poetry, enabling a rethinking of what poetry is and what it can do; in this sense, it returns to a more fundamental and primal relationship to its audience. Documentary and investigative poetries come out of the sense that we are called to be co-creators of history through language and action.

Language and action. In her book of essays, Sister Outsider, Audré Lorde wrote about the necessity of transforming silence into language and action.  She wrote:

And of course I am afraid, because the transformation of silence into language and action is an act of self-revelation, and that always seems fraught with danger. But my daughter, when I told her of our topic and my difficulty with it, said, “Tell them about how you’re never really a whole person if you remain silent, because there’s always that one little piece inside you that wants to be spoken out, and if you keep ignoring it, it gets madder and madder and hotter and hotter, and if you don’t speak it out one day it will just up and punch you in the mouth from the inside.”

7

In the cause of silence, each of us draws the face of her own fear – fear of contempt, of censure, or some judgment, or recognition, of challenge, of annihilation. But most of all, I think, we fear the visibility without which we cannot truly live. 

Poetry could very well be as powerful as any form of political or social activism, and perhaps more so. The language is powerful and unforgettable. Writing is an act of claiming one's own experience and voice. Whatever one writes about makes it stronger. Does lobbying, protesting, writing to legislators, voting, writing letter to the editors, etc do as much? 

At this time, we are increasingly aware of disruptions caused by climate change: wildfires, drought, intense storms, insect infestations, viruses and disease, extinctions, and the loss of habitat. We know about the changes occurring with ice at the North and South Pole, and how this melting will raise sea levels and damage cities and landscape along the coast. Talking about climate change, Amitav Ghosh in The Guardian writes:

In a substantially altered world, when sea-level rise has swallowed the Sundarbans and made cities such as Kolkata, New York and Bangkok uninhabitable, when readers and museum-goers turn to the art and literature of our time, will they not look, first and most urgently, for traces and portents of the altered world of their inheritance? And when they fail to find them, what can they do other than to conclude that ours was a time when most forms of art and literature were drawn into the modes of concealment that prevented people from recognising the realities of their plight? Quite possibly, then, this era, which so congratulates itself on its self-awareness, will come to be known as the time of the Great Derangement.

To write about these things is to reflect the real issues that we grapple with every day. Poetry is succinct. It brings clarity. Poetry engages the five senses and the physical body, making it immediate.  Let us do everything we can to work with the matters at hand. Let us change the world into a better place.   

Change, Change, Rearrange: A Writing Workshop


 CHANGE, CHANGE, REARRANGE: A WRITING WORKSHOP

This in-person generative writing workshop will meet in Cook, Minnesota

Tuesday, July 13 1:00 – 4:00pm


presented by Sheila Packa, author of Night Train Red Dust: Poems of the Iron Range.  


What moves you? What has marked you? Come to this half day workshop. During the 3 hour session, we will do guided writing exercises that use personal memories, family history, and even music to create a piece of writing: a memoir, a poem, or a story.  We will play and experiment with writing in order to discover good material.  While the focus is on generating new work, participants will also consider some tips that make a piece of writing more vivid, immediate, and powerful. This workshop is for beginners and more advanced writers. At the end, participants will have time to share their new work if they like.  


To register: 

Contact Alberta Whitenack

Gallery Manager, Northwoods Friends of the Arts

aaw1947@aol.com

218-666-2153 


Sheila Packa served as Duluth Poet Laureate in 2010-2012. She has an MFA in Creative Writing and taught writing at Lake Superior College. She leads poetry and writing workshops in the community and performs her work in music and media installations. She received a Minnesota Arts Initiative Award, a Finlandia Foundation grant, two Loft McKnight Awards (in poetry and prose) a Loft Mentor Award, and grants from the Arrowhead Regional Arts Council. She has four books of poetry and edited Migrations: Poetry & Prose for Life’s Transitions, an anthology of Lake Superior writers.

February 4, 2021

A Book Club for Poetry

In Duluth, since 2018, I have facilitated a book club for poetry at Zenith Books. The bookstore was kind enough to host us in between the stacks. In the past year, due to the pandemic, our book club moved online.  Zenith Books still orders books for us, and they sell them to book club members at a 15% discount.  Zenith Bookstore is a fantastic local bookstore, and they have continued to help the readers in Duluth get through the pandemic. You can order books online to be mailed or for curbside delivery.   

The book club has been meeting for over two years. Lately we gather together on Zoom (contact me if you would like an invite). The discussion is wide-ranging. We discuss the topic or theme and also examine voice, metaphor, images, sound patterns, and forms. Members often do more research to learn biographical or other related information about the poets.

Our list of books (in the order that we read them): 

Ocean Vuong: Night Sky with Exit Wounds
Natalie Diaz: When My Brother Was an Aztec
Natasha Tretheway: Native Guard
Danez Smith: Don’t Call Us Dead
Tracy K. Smith: Duende
Joy Harjo: Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings
Tom Sleigh: House of Fact, House of Ruin
Jane Hirshfield: The Beauty
Forrest Gander: Be With
Ross Gay: Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude
Ada Limon: The Carrying
Maggie Nelson: Bluets
Sharon Olds: Odes
Hanif Abdurriq: A Fortune for Your Disaster
Saeed Jones: Prelude to Bruise
Sarah Ruhl: 44 Poems for You
Farzana Marie: Load Poems Like Guns: Women’s Poetry from Herat Afghanistan
Sun Yung Shin: Unbearable Splendor 
Andrea Jenkins: The T Is Not Silent
Robin Coste Lewis: Voyage of the Sable Venus
Marilyn Chin: A Portrait of the Self as Nation
Louise Glück: Poems 1962-2012
Jericho Brown: The Tradition
Tomas Tranströmer: The Great Enigma.
Lorine Niedecker: Granite Pail or Selected Poems

 

 

January 24, 2021

Watched All Things Change

 


A Birth

by Muriel Rukeyser




Lately having escaped three-kinded death

Not by evasion but by coming through

I celebrate what may be true beginning.

But new begun am most without resource

Stupid and stopped.      How do the newborn grow?

I am of them.        Freshness has taken our hearts;

Pain strips us to the source, infants of further life

Waiting for childhood as we wait for form.


So came I into the world of all the living,

The maimed triumphant middle of my way

Where there is giving needing no forgetting.

Saw now the present that is here to say:

Nothing I wrote is what I must see written,

Nothing I did is what I now need done. –

The smile of darkness on my song and my son.


Lately emerged I have seen unfounded houses,

Have seen spirits now opened, surrounded as by sun,

And have, among limitless consensual faces

Watched all things change, an unbuilt house inherit

Materials of desire, that stone and wood and air.

Lit by a birth, I defend dark beginnings,

Waste that is never waste, most-human giving,

Declared and clear as the mortal body of grace.

Beginnings of truth-in-life, the rooms of wilderness

Where truth feeds and the ramifying heart,

Even mine, praising even the past in its pieces,

My tearflesh beckoner who brought me to this place. 




from Poetry, January 1952

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/browse?volume=79&issue=4&page=6


Muriel Rukeyser's poems are powerful and political. I used a line from her poem as an inscription to the book of poetry about the Iron Range.  "Let these roads take you into your own country,"  Rukeyser once said that the poem is like a theater. A line of a poem is a line of energy. 


This poem captures an awakening, a new birth, and expresses awe in the moment its happening. The voice is personal, narrative. The form very much epistolary, a letter.  One thing that I find very interesting in the poem is the rhythm. It's conveys the sense of impediments. This is how one feels after coming through huge change or trauma that she names as a "three-kinded death."  In the first stanza, she conveys a sense of feeling stunned:  


But new begun am most without resource

Stupid and stopped.      How do the newborn grow?

I am of them...

            ...

            Pain strips us to the source, infants of further life

            Waiting for childhood as we wait for form. 


There is a need to understand the new shape of life, a pause.  We wait for form.  


In the middle stanza, "So came I..."  is a reversal of the usual word order, and the first two syllables are emphatic. It's claims, declaims.  The voice is powerful.  After these words, two prepositional phrases, each with a longer breath line.  The second line of the poem has alliteration, the repeated m sound and the long a sound at the start and end are memorable.  There are stops and starts in the ensuing lines, syncopated rhythms, disruptions that seem to echo the content of the poem. 


Nothing I wrote is what I must see written,

Nothing I did is what I now need done. 

 

The anaphora structure, the same beginning on each line, and the end stops make this stand out. Often I've felt that the pandemic, the huge public health disaster, has changed the context of all of our lives. Lives are at stake.  Actions matter. Former worries seem paltry to the new worries: severe illness, possible job loss, loss of a loved one, isolation.  There is a need to evaluate one's normal activities up until January 2020, to reassess and change.  The world is a different place. It requires something different.  


The last stanza conveys the sense of amazement and wonder. A dream grows and becomes real:  


Watched all things change, an unbuilt house inherit

Materials of desire, that stone and wood and air.  


New meanings arrive, a sense of relief or reckoning, another sense of connection to pieces of the past that brought one over obstacle or barricade. The ramifying heart: great word choice. It beats. No it is a battering ram. It breaks through.  "My tearflesh beckoner" is such a powerful image of grief and desire.  


Beginnings of truth-in-life, the rooms of wilderness

Where truth feeds and the ramifying heart,

Even mine, praising even the past in its pieces,

My tearflesh beckoner who brought me to this place. 

 

It is a poem that expresses the moment, amid the long pandemic, a political victory hard won that brings integrity and compassion back to the White House. 


Yet, citizens witnessed an attack on the US Capitol by our own citizens, people who have been fed fear-based propaganda and a lie about the election and it led to violence and five people dead, windows broken, lawmaker's threatened by white nationalists and extremists. What does it take to maintain a democracy?  It is not polarization, not propaganda, not efforts to ignore the voice of the people, the voters.  It takes the rule of law and leaders who have a commitment to the democratic institutions and to integrity. Transparency. Dialogue. Egalitarianism. It takes the truth. 


Republican leaders now must decide how they will govern. They are at a crossroad. Fascism has been stopped, and they seem disoriented. "Stupid and stopped."  Will they remain silent? Will they go back to hostility, verbal attacks, red herrings, whataboutisms, oversimplifications and generalizations? 


 It's time for some critical thinking. "Nothing I wrote is what I must see written."  It's time to name the lie. Is it possible for them to confess how they spread the propaganda for their own profit or power?  They seem to be stuttering, fighting with each other for power, and anxious to put it behind without affixing consequences to Trump, without accepting responsibility for their own complicity. They must decide whether to operate under a mass delusion or to break that delusion.  I hope they get through this and return to egalitarian efforts. I hope they want to engage with voters of all races, of both genders, and understand that a government plays a necessary role to help the poor, to empower people, encourage each person to build skills and embrace opportunities.  






December 10, 2020

Listening to Silences and Gaps


What don't we know?

Michel-Rolph Trouillot's book examines the omissions and distortions in our history books. It's a wonderful analysis that distinguishes between "the past" and "history of the past." In this book, he does a full examination of the Haitian revolution which occurred 1798-1804. It's nearly unheard of, and yet, it was a slave rebellion that overthrew a government.  Trouillot also considers many debates about Christopher Columbus and the discovery of America and incidents surrounding the "Remember the Alamo." He also examines the outright denial of the Holocaust, shedding insight into how and why those things happen. He also considers the narratives around the taming of the Wild West and notes the history of the West is often framed around western films featuring John Wayne. A dominant culture can not or will not fully see or fathom political or cultural events that challenge their world view. These are silenced, omitted, dismissed, or disregarded. 

Since the publication of Silencing the Past in 1995, a broader cultural understanding has reframed Columbus Day in the United States. Columbus himself kept a journal, and he wrote no entry for Oct 12. The Spanish monarch for whom he established a trade route took very little notice. It was only in the beginning of the 1900s that a (rather fictional) story of Columbus emerged and a festival was held. This festival led to further fictional narratives. Since the publication of Trouillot's book and others, we have learned about the violence, oppression, and smallpox infestation that Columbus and other Europeans brought when they arrived. As a result of Columbus capitalist venture, millions of Native Americans died and were displaced and continued to be displaced and harmed by European settlers. It is still a federal holiday, but in some locales, the day has been renamed as Indigenous Peoples Day. In some states, such as Minnesota, the state employees no longer are granted a Christopher Columbus holiday.  

Slowly, we see new research that changes the old stories. A new history book, Lakota America: A New History of Indigenous Power by Pekka Hämäläinen examines the complex cultures and political influence of Chief Red Cloud and the Lakota people. This culture and their territory influenced the formation and history of the United States. It isn't anything you would learn in primary or secondary school history class. 

The new stories can transform the way that we see our world, not only the large events but also the smaller, individual stories. New technologies and methods have allowed more precise and accurate data. This is threatening to some people like Donald Trump who condemned history classes that include lessons on systemic racism, teaching what he called “lies” and “left-wing indoctrination.” He called for a "patriotic" education. This is a troubling call that seeks to suppress the truth. Allowing a political agenda to dictate history is a mistake, and it is characteristic of tyrants. Verifiable information would be ignored and silenced in favor of a story that aggrandizes policies that are detrimental and even deadly. Trump is an example of what what is bad about politicians in George Orwell's famous essay, "Politics and the English Language." Hopefully the defeat of Trump in the 2020 presidential election will diminish the racism that he helped to stoke. 


New writing by Saidiya Hartman is a welcome perspective that celebrates the lives of girls and women in the early 1900s.  She has conducted intensive research in the archives of black Americans. The original sources were sociological surveys, records of home visits made by social workers, newspapers, and primary sources that clearly revealed a racial bias. Her analysis in her books bring fresh stories about these people, places, and events. She is the author of Scenes of Subjection: Terror, Slavery, and Self-making in Nineteenth Century America (Oxford University Press,1997) and Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route (Farrar,Straus and Giroux, 2007), Wayward LIves, Beautiful Experiments (Norton, 2019). In these books, Hartman is providing deep insights into the rich culture as well as providing a critical examination of the institutions in those eras.

I appreciate Trouillot's advice about researching the gaps and silences in history. There is a "canon" which must be continually examined for its biases. It has been said by others.The writer Tillie Olson, a depression era novelist and essayist, was fully committed to "listening to silences." In an obituary of Tillie Olsen in Slate Magazine, Jess Row said, "Look around you on your way to work, she might say to us, or the next time you eat at a restaurant or visit a nail salon, and listen: That deafening silence is the sound of literature not being written." An interview with Tillie Olsen was published at the Modern American Poetry website (currently under re-construction). Here is an excerpt:  

Q: What gives you hope?
OLSEN: History gives me hope.
Q: Even though this century's been so violent?
OLSEN: The century has also been full of resistance. Why is it that the resistance movements--often so heroic and so ingenious--get obliterated from consciousness? There's always been resistance, and there comes a time when changes are made. The fact that human beings do not put up forever with misery, humiliation, degradation, actual physical deprivation but act is a fact which every human being should know about. We are a species that makes changes.There was a period in my parents' lives--it was a period in our country's life--when the ideal and the real were dynamically contiguous. They really felt that the international movement was going to change the world and make it a more just, human place. They were young when they came here, but they'd lived so very, very much.The world is so different from the world of their youth and the world of my youth. Still, power is primarily held by people of wealth and position. By and large, class interest still rules in our country.

If writers and researchers delve into the silences, the results will yield important pieces to the puzzle. We will learn more about the obstacles, understand more complexity, and contemplate more stories of resilience. These words of Tillie Olson attest to the value and power of written language.  If we record our history, we can help provide hope to ourselves and the future generations.



October 23, 2020

Poetry Reading

 

Online Poetry Reading November 8 at 3:00 pm
 
The Duluth Poet Laureate Project will conclude its “Second Sunday Reading Series,” an online open poetry reading organized by Gary Boelhower, 2018-2020 Duluth Poet Laureate, on Sunday, November 8th, from 3 to 4 pm. 

The reading will feature Sheila Packa and Blair Powless, followed by a reading by Marie Zhuikov, David Tryggestad, Diane Friebe, Kyle Hyesen, and Katri Sipila. 

The poetry reading will be offered through the ZOOM online video communications technology. The public is invited to view the reading through a ZOOM online portal; please register for the program with Gary Boelhower through email, gboelhower@msn.com. Poets who wish to participate in the open reading segment should contact Gary Boelhower.

The Duluth Poet Laureate Project began in 2005 and is funded by donations from The Friends of the Duluth Public Library, Lake Superior College, Lake Superior Writers, and the English departments at the College of Saint Scholastica, UMD, and by generous individuals. The Zeitgeist Community Arts Center is the fiscal sponsor. More information can be found at www.duluthpoetlaureate.org.

Sheila Packa is a 2020 Minnesota State Arts Board Initiative Grant in Poetry. She is currently at work on a new poetry manuscript.  

September 14, 2020

Writing on the Iron Range

 








Writing On the Iron Range: Workshop 

Sheila Packa, author of Night Train Red Dust: Poems of the Iron Range and other works

Oct 24, 2020, Saturday, sponsored by the Lyric Center for the Arts, Virginia, MN 

Due to the pandemic, the workshop will occur on Zoom. 
 
Writing on the Iron Range Workshop

Have you always wanted to write down some of your life stories? Tune into this writing workshop!  In the morning, starting at 10 am, we’ll look at some examples of good writing and play with some interesting and fun approaches.  We will use guided writing exercises that enable participants will draw on their own experiences, memories, family history and landscape to make a story, memoir or poetry. 


Participants have time between sessions to develop or finish the writing prompt assignment for the later session, starting at 5 pm. During this early evening, session 2, we will do a short writing prompt and participants have the opportunity to share their writing in our group. We will discuss the strengths. There will be time for talking about editing, publishing or anything the participants would like. 

 

Oct 24 Session I: 10:00 am to 11:30 am. 

Oct 24 Session II: 5:00 6:30 pm

Sessions are not the same. Participants are welcome to attend both or just one session. This workshop for beginning or experienced writers. 



Register here https://squareup.com/store/lyric-center-for-the-arts-2/
The Zoom link will be sent to you when you register. 
Questions:  Email: sheila@sheilapacka.com

Sheila Packa is a fiscal year 2020 recipient of an Artist Initiative Grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board. This activity is made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board, thanks to a legislative appropriation by the Minnesota State Legislature; and by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.



August 25, 2020

Borders and Lists

Borders

One of the most interesting novelists I've read lately is Yuri Herrara. His three books, termed "nuevo noir" seem to capture today's most perilous situations. W.S. Lyon writes "his real subject is border condition, a state of exile, an existence between two extremes—this side and the other side, narco and gringo, life and death." His three books are Signs Preceding the End of the World, The Transmigration of Bodies, and Kingdom Cons. Herrara says: 
...the protagonists in all three novels are what I would call “border characters,” though not only in the sense that they live on the actual physical border between two countries; they share the border condition, which is any situation where you have different individuals and different communities exchanging values, exchanging goods, always in conflict but also in different levels of dialogue.

In different fashions, in different contexts, these three characters try to put things in contact. They try to put different people in contact—enemies, or people that seem to be enemies, or people that are far away from each other. They try to understand and shape the different roles that they are in the middle of, between.

In an interview in Latin American Literature Today, novelist Yuri Herrara says

I make a lot of lists before I prepare a book: lists of stories, lists of words I like, lists of words that I won’t use. That last one might be the most important list, and that has to do with the need to avoid cliches, to not repeat certain predigested concepts in place of problems or emotions that are much more complex than those concepts. So, the list of words I refused to use in Kingdom Cons included “Mexico,” “United States,” “border,” “drugs,” and “narco trafficking.” And that wasn’t enough to avoid being called a writer of narco novels, which is fine, since once a book is out there the readers can find different ways of reading it, but I think that’s not the only possibility.
Herrara distills different cultures, languages, and experience, using words or phrases from each. Aristotle wrote in Poetics: "Every word is either current, or strange, or metaphorical, or ornamental, or newly-coined, or lengthened, or contracted, or altered." This seems to be the case with Yuri Herrara's language. His translator Lisa Dillon writes of Herrara's unique patois — a language made from a mix of places and traditions and ways of being. He teaches at Tulane University, but he writes his novels in Spanish. It was a challenge for her to find the most accurate translation for his neologisms. Herrara uses an invented word for walking, traveling, crossing. Brilliantly, the translator uses the word "versed.


One feels the archetype in these stories, yet they do not seem facile or contrived. There is violence all around the main character, and he or she must walk through it as in order to complete his or her assigned errand. In The Transmigration of Bodies, the protagonist is a "fixer," a go-between between rival gangs, who must collect the body of a beautiful young woman and return it to her family. This exchange occurs amid a mysterious epidemic.

In Signs.., the protagonist Makina is a young woman whose grandmother sends her on a journey across the border from Mexico to the United States to look for her brother who has disappeared. This story evokes the journey through the underworld as she meets and deals with various narcotics dealers, criminals, and coyotes. These figures evoke underworld gods. In fact, Aztec mythology underlies this novel. "Each chapter title taken from the name of a layer of Mictlan—we see the Mexica world itself being reborn, with no memory of itself, out of a place of silence." Makina is an interpretor, a conduit of messages, a telephone operator in a town with few phones.

In Kingdom Cons, a street musician is suddenly lifted up from his poverty by a drug kingpin who likes his music. He lives within the narco's luxurious compound and writes and performs music to an audience of connivers and underground operators of all kinds. It is a scenario which might be characteristic of a jester or minstrel in a king's court. He tries to maintain loyalty but he is swept into assisting an escape of the wealthy man's daughter. 

Herrera's three small novels form a trip-tych. Despite the diverse characters, they capture a harrowing between-world experience and do so with a lyrical, spare writing style that evokes so much more than what is on the page.

For more about Yuri Herrara:

https://www.andotherstories.org/authors/yuri-herrera/

https://www.thenation.com/article/archive/border-characters/

https://www.wordswithoutborders.org/book-review/yuri-herreras-signs-preceding-the-end-of-the-world

http://www.latinamericanliteraturetoday.org/en/2017/april/myth-literature-and-border-signs-preceding-end-world-yuri-herrera-marcelo-rioseco

http://bostonreview.net/books-ideas/aaron-bady-yuri-herrera-signs-preceding-end-world-transmigration-bodies

https://www.3ammagazine.com/3am/eight-questions-for-yuri-herrera/ 

https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/borders-and-exile-on-the-recent-translation-of-yuri-herreras-first-novel-kingdom-cons/

Notes from his translator, Lisa Dillman

https://lithub.com/on-the-genius-of-yuri-herreras-character-names/


July 13, 2020

Index Cards


Nabokov's novel Lolita ripples with sound: 

Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta. 
She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita. 
Did she have a precursor? She did, indeed she did. In point of fact, there might have been no Lolita at all had I not loved, one summer, a certain initial girl-child. In a princedom by the sea. Oh when? About as many years before Lolita was born as my age was that summer. You can always count on a murderer for a fancy prose style. 
Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, exhibit number one is what the seraphs, the misinformed, simple, noble-winged seraphs, envied. Look at this tangle of thorns.

An unforgettable voice. First, the scandal. Second, the attitude. Third, the words themselves, at play in many ways, alliterative and rhythmic.  His flights of imagination are breathtaking. He said  "every writer is a great deceiver" and then points to Nature. One only needs to look at biomimicry and the ways that animals evade predators. Vladimir Nabokov talked about his writing process, which was a method of jotting on index cards which later he rearranged and dictated to his wife. His writing then is a fusion of oral story-telling and "the correct names, or the inches and tints of things."  Enchantment, as he says. This is how he explained it:

All I know is that at a very early stage of the novel’s development I get this urge to collect bits of straw and fluff, and to eat pebbles. Nobody will ever discover how clearly a bird visualizes, or if it visualizes at all, the future nest and the eggs in it. When I remember afterwards the force that made me jot down the correct names of things, or the inches and tints of things, even before I actually needed the information, I am inclined to assume that what I call, for want of a better term, inspiration, had been already at work, mutely pointing at this or that, having me accumulate the known materials for an unknown structure. After the first shock of recognition—a sudden sense of “this is what I’m going to write”—the novel starts to breed by itself; the process goes on solely in the mind, not on paper; and to be aware of the stage it has reached at any given moment, I do not have to be conscious of every exact phrase. I feel a kind of gentle development, an uncurling inside, and I know that the details are there already, that in fact I would see them plainly if I looked closer, if I stopped the machine and opened its inner compartment; but I prefer to wait until what is loosely called inspiration has completed the task for me. There comes a moment when I am informed from within that the entire structure is finished. All I have to do now is take it down in pencil or pen. Since this entire structure, dimly illumined in one’s mind, can be compared to a painting, and since you do not have to work gradually from left to right for its proper perception, I may direct my flashlight at any part or particle of the picture when setting it down in writing. I do not begin my novel at the beginning, I do not reach chapter three before I reach chapter four, I do not go dutifully from one page to the next, in consecutive order; no, I pick out a bit here and a bit there, till I have filled all the gaps on paper. This is why I like writing my stories and novels on index cards, numbering them later when the whole set is complete. Every card is rewritten many times. About three cards make one typewritten page, and when finally I feel that the conceived picture has been copied by me as faithfully as physically possible—a few vacant lots always remain, alas—then I dictate the novel to my wife who types it out in triplicate.

–from an interview with Alvin Toffler, published in Playboy, January 1964
This is from an article written by Emily Temple and published on LitHub:
https://lithub.com/every-great-writer-is-a-great-deceiver-vladimir-nabokovs-best-writing-advice/

July 10, 2020

Moonlight in Her Voice

Poet Alice Oswald holds the Poetry Chair at Oxford University. In her inaugural lecture, "The Art of Erosion," she begins with a story of man who moved into a house that did not have room for his piano, so he brought it outside and placed it beneath an apple tree where it became an instrument of meteorological phenomena, playing when a branch fell upon the broken lid or when an apple struck the keys. This is the art of erosion.

A cyanotype is created by the sunlight eroding the photographic paper and leaving a profile of a leaf. The force of erosion by water, sun, or wind on language also makes a mark, wears a hole, leaves an empty space. Some poets have "constructed" poems, she asserts. Others have poems of erosion evoked by a phrase or transforming image. She speaks of Samuel Beckett. He spoke of the "black holes" in the work of Beethoven; it was not the sound so much as the sighing, he said. Beckett instructed the actors of his play to speak with "moonlight in their voices."  This phrase is an apt description of Oswald's work.

Ange Mlinko in the New York Review of Books identifies her work "water music." She says Oswald is a preternatural poet as opposed to a nature poet.  Erosions enacted on language in a poem create an opening. Like the piano, the poem becomes a new kind of instrument. Her poems ""Body""Flies" and "A Short Story of Falling" are examples of "moonlight in their voices."  The images creates a natural music.  “Poetry,” Oswald says, “is not about language but about what happens when language gets impossible.”

Listen to the podcast of her lecture at Oxford University: http://podcasts.ox.ac.uk/art-erosion
See: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/alice-oswald

Interview with Alice Oswald: "An Interview with Water:" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UUiSmsmfMWg&feature=youtu.be&fbclid=IwAR3YxwjU4fHTlnjDEbUTyFVcxQLe1BEXpyNzdLviQJoJwkE5O6LqRUwAMoE