December 12, 2011

New Work & Poetry Hybrids

Right now, I am at work on a new piece of writing. It is a hybrid between poetry and prose, and I search inside for its form. The goal is to find that interesting friction or energy that will engage me and the reader, and that will help the work go forward. Often, writer's block will occur when I've taken a wrong turn. I work in fits and starts, forward and back, revising and developing.  

Anne Carson writes (from the section Short Talks in her book of essays and poems, Plainwater (Vintage Books, New York, 1995): 

Anne Carson is a poet, translator, scholar of ancient Greek literature, and essayist, and she is a good example of a writer who is combining forms.  She is entertaining and incisive. The Autobiography of Red carries the Greek myth of Herakles into contemporary culture. This story in poems details the Red Monster as a gay man who wears a heavy black coat to disguise his wings. We read about Herakles' mother and a lover in Argentina.  The book also contains an interesting essay about the adjective and meat.  The book Men in the Off Hours has poems that are essays. The Beauty of the Husband is billed as a fictional essay in 29 tangos. Decreation contains a set of poems, a play, and essays about ecstasy and eclipses.  Nox is an art box of fragments and photographs, memories of a brother, and a translation of an ancient Greek elegy.

The boundaries are not fixed. Patterns shift. Formal poems give way to informal. Meaning gives way to language. Poetry gives way to prose. Sources vary. Discourses mix. There is a potluck of essay, fiction, autobiography, poetry. Conventions travel. Cultures blend. Translations err and err again. Words are the stock in trade. Poets conduct raids of other landscapes and lexicons. We make forays into art and science and metadata to yield the right friction or energy or fusion.

Recently, WW Norton came out with an anthology, American Hybrid. The editors have included many good poets who are experimenting with language, but I thought the collection falls a little short. The editors acknowledged how challenging it was to put the collection together. Their initial choices they decided against, in favor of collecting the work of the earlier generation, the precursors. The publishing world has turned upside down Cole Swenson writes, and academics are no longer on top. Changes are happening fast. Technology, the internet, and rapid changes in our culture make it difficult for an editor of such an anthology to keep pace.  In order to learn the new works, it's best to scan the New York Times Book Review.  Besides the interesting fusions in genre, other influences exist. Graphic novels, music videos, video games, and hypertext provide interesting story telling techniques. 

I read Anne Carson because she opens doors. I also read Clarice Lispector, the Brazilian prose writer.  This is an excerpt from the novel, The Hour of the Star (New Directions, 1992) that so clearly conveys that each book tells the writer how it must be written. It was written in Portuguese and is translated by Giovanni Pointiero. The narrator is a writer, Rodrigo S.M., who tells the story of a poor girl from Northeast Brazil who comes to the city and works as a typist. She is a very bad typist, and she lives a very sad existence. The drama of the novel is the struggle the writer Rodrigo has with his story.  He says:
"I know perfectly well that every day is one more day stolen from death. In no sense an intellectual, I write with my body. And what I write is like a dank haze, the words are sounds transfused with shadows that intersect unevenly, stalactites, woven lace, transposed organ music. I can scarcely invoke words to describe this pattern, vibrant and rich, morbid and obscure, its counterpoint the deep bass of sorrow. Allegro con brio. I shall attempt to extract gold from charcoal."
"I write because I have nothing better to do in this world: I am superfluous and last in the world of men. I write because I am desperate and weary. I can no longer bear the routine of my existence and, were it not for the constant novelty of writing, I should die symbolically each day. Yet I am prepared to leave quietly by the back door. I have experienced almost everything, even passion and despair. Now I only wish to possess what might have been but never was." 
Lispector is not a writer who is much concerned with plot. She has the concerns of a poet yet writes in prose. She is a wonderful and deep writer who is able to bring the reader with her into a threshold space of each moment, a threshold of becoming. This book is a very good book to read when one is struggling with a piece of writing, becoming.  I return to her work again and again for her vision.

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