Monday, May 27, 2013
what i've been reading lately
(Finnegan, three months.)
In graduate school, of which Sarah Fox (below, her book First Flag) was a peer, I gained, over three years, insight into contemporary poetic movements. I think, before, I read what I liked, and I was highly influenced by my first true professor of poetry, Michael Dennis Browne. From him, I learned to love Anna Akhmatova, James Wright, Elizabeth Bishop, Pablo Neruda, Jane Kenyon and Donald Hall. I came into his classroom loving Sharon Olds, Carolyn Forche. Of course, Plath and Sexton. William Carlos Williams. Li-Young Lee. Poets with deft use of narrative and image. Many uses of the self, of lovers and family, not always confessional, but certainly personal.
So when I met my cohort and the one following mine, I also learned many new names: Chelsey Minnis, the Gurlesque, Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge, Alice Fulton and Alice Notley. I had trouble reading Hiromi Ito's Killing Kanoko, though I wouldn't mind giving it a second chance. SF had a good conversation about it on Rain Taxi. I scrunched my brow at some of the poems that crossed my desk in workshop, read Montevidayo and wondered why I wasn't entering this new poetics as gleefully as I might have years ago: was I too stodgy? Did my preference for the elegant, the image, the story preclude me from appreciating the flashy, the grotesque?
There were words I struggled to separate: experimental versus avante garde versus conceptual versus postmodern. Where did they intercede, intersect, overlap, snuggle with one another in a messy heap?
I'd learned that I loved the hybrid poem-essay. I read Claudia Rankine's Don't Let Me Be Lonely and swooned. At AWP in Denver, I borrowed my friend's copy of Bhanu Kapil's Humanimal and wanted to immediately read it again.
Not long after, my dear friend Opal published her thesis essay, re-visioned: Surge: An Oral Poetics. I swooned and read it again and licked my fingers when I was done.
I was beginning to understand my tastes, how all of this box-making I was doing was preventing from me letting my own convergence occur. I love the elegant and the liquid. I love the lineated and the great scramble. I love images still, yes, and I love powerfulness (I nearly wrote power, but that's not quite right) and confidence and the ability to be humble and blushes and passion and the exact right word and verbs and breath. And breath.
Recently, a convergence of reading, along with a good discussion with my dear friend Meryl about these labels and, essentially, the goals of some of the movements, allowed me to read and begin to fall in love.
It's so strange, because I didn't understand much of what was popular for my peers, which made me feel a bit on the outside of things, but I always knew and wanted to find my place in it. And I have been getting walloped by falling in love with poetry lately: Love, An Index and The Lifting Dress and At the Drive-In Volcano and Exit, Civilian in a row and SWOON, but I would have swooned a decade ago too. This swoon isn't new to me, even if it feels that way when I do so. And then: pieces of Lidia Yuknavitch's The Chronology of Water; and Christine Hume's Ventifacts (which I read on a delightfully windy day at the park), which became the model for much of what my own hybrid-thing has become; and then a package from Noemi Press arrived with Danielle Pafunda's Iatrogenic, and I thought, Those poems, I wrote some like that during my infertility treatments and early pregnancy, exactly.like.that; and Sarah Vap's The End of Sentimentality, which went ahead and finished me off, a poem-essay that bandies the words irony and sentimentality (and easy and difficult) around and helped me deal with the use of certain language in order to convey meaning. Confront what had been discomfort and translate it to experience, meaning beyond our typical associations. Not reclaiming the word. That's been done. But rewriting.
I'm glad these things have cracked this part of my reading-life open. I wanted the doors to open.