Wednesday, June 26, 2013
loft mentorship: seminar with jude
Jude Nutter spent some time in Europe this late spring, researching. She grew up in/near Bergen-Belsen and on a recent trip with a historian, she was able to take in both personal and world history. She gathered pieces and shared them with us.
Above: upper left: a piece melted glass; lower left: a piece of window with wire still in it; middle: a hand-forged nail; right: a broken piece of ceramics, likely brought from home.
Below: perhaps the most jarring of broken ceramics, of course, because that symbol is so absolutely terrifying and fraught.
We spoke of journeys, of opportunities, such as being an artist in residence at national parks and monuments.
This particular session was dedicated to discussion telling lies / telling truth in poetry.
Talking about how publishing houses decide if something is called memoir or novel. One (CNF, but prefers to call it prose, or simply not label) participant said, Our concern with the truth is an American thing. We're letting markets dictate our hyped up emotions. Yes.
Jude pointed out the use of metaphor (love is a dog from hell) as a device but an impossible occurrence. Immediate lie. I thought: emotional truth and plot's lie.
Then there was the discussion of topic and how far a lie can go in poetry and be OK: some felt cheated when finding out Jude's latest book was 80% fabrication (a poem she read to us about a lover that was emotionally true, but there was no spy-lover, only much research). But others were OK with it--but if they looked to the back of Jude's book and discovered it was written by a father-of-three living in Chicago (as opposed to the woman who grew up near/on Bergen-Belsen after the event). The narrative of abuse that never happened. Evoking pity where pity wasn't deserved. I mentioned the idea of appropriation versus lying in the service of the truth--these things were vastly different.
The same CNF participant said, The new discussion should be Your Problem, Not Mine.
A poet: Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.
Another poet: I'm just fascinated with all the curtains.
Jude: Here she brought in the idea of truth as expressed through structure. One member has had several pregnancy losses and writes about them in such a stunning way: one suggestion in her conference with Oliver de la Paz was that perhaps she does not have to rely on chronology or to maintain each separate event by truth, that blending could happen. It's a complicated decision, as each loss is so personal and has such a different impact, depending on if it was before or after the birth of her daughter and how far along she was when she experienced the loss. So then does the book need cohesion or is that disjointedness, that inability to fully track a part of the reading experience?
Jude: Ellen Bass wrote about her mother having cancer and killed her off in a poem. She was nervous for her mother reading the book, but it turns out her mother wasn't hurt by this action; instead she was bothered by her wearing a wig, which she didn't do, as she didn't want people to believe her hair wasn't her own.
A poet: told us of how she received an ornament from her aunt to memorialize a cousin of hers who killed himself. By hanging himself on a tree.
Another poet: You arrived at the irony of this through language.
Another CNF: This is why we are the writer and she isn't.
Original CNF: And I bet she's happier for it.
In the context of my own work, so much of it leans on truth, with small embellishments. There are false poems out there: my poem "Breaching" (in paper, Berkeley Poetry Review) takes the fact of a honeymoon in Alaska, an orange curtain, two black bears, and embellishes, becomes a poem where my husband and I physically fight, which is ludicrous in truth. But narratively, it's compelling. In another poem, "Linguistics," I change the word my grandfather uses from "asshole" to "cocksucker" because it has more punch and shock. I cannot imagine hearing either out of his mouth, but he has Alzheimer's and does so much I could never imagine happening. I feel exhausted in some ways, with The Truth, and have been flirting with the idea of putting together a hybrid / lyric essay weaving together witches, a burning, the South, midwifery, kudzu, bears, I don't know what-all else. I picked up a book at McKay's in Chattanooga on front porch culture. I'm drawn to The Farm. I'm ready to see where these elements take me.