Wars

September 3, 2019

The worst thing about wars is that they reduce the enemy to a single characteristic. The country ceases to be history, language, architecture, theatre, gardens, and legends;  a heritage of love stories, philosophy and science; shared ancestral dreams and uncountable varieties of human striving along the roads of the universe. Instead, everything becomes a mere label, blot, field of battle. This is what war has done to the names Palestine, Vietnam, Lebanon, Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq. These are no longer multifaceted countries and their names are mentioned in news bulletins not as such but as ‘fields’ – fields from which the numbers of the dead and wounded are garnered daily like the output of a canned goods factory.  The whole of history is now  ‘today’  and today has become a reduction of every ‘yesterday’ that has passed over the face of this earth, a reduction of all history. As though al-Mutanabbi had never walked the markets of al-Kufa hugging himself with joy at a nation that would be singing his verses for a thousand years.  As though the Abbasids had never built their libraries on the banks of the Tigris and Abu Nuwas never maintained his pinnacle of shamelessness and flagrant sexual indulgence through to the pinnacle of day,  after first exhausting the night with poetry and lovely depravities that spared neither male nor female. As though al-Hallaj had never been crucified defending what he had seen with the eye of the imagination and the eye of the mind. As though Hammurabi had never written his code on tablets of burnt clay before Coca-Cola and McDonald’s had been transformed into a religion for all mankind, while Gilgamesh,  who achieved immortality but not finding the plant of immortality on the steppes of his everlasting legend, is treated as though he were not of the land of Iraq. Bush and Rumsfeld reduced all of this to the word ‘enemy.’

Mourid Barghouti
I Was Born There, I Was Born Here

Feelings

July 30, 2019

I cannot tell you. It is difficult for a woman to define her feelings in language that is chiefly made by men to express theirs.

Thomas Hardy
Far From The Madding Crowd

I don’t relate to standard psychologizing in novels. I don’t really believe that the backstory is the story you need. And I don’t believe it’s more like life to get it — the buildup of “character” through psychological and family history, the whole idea of “knowing what the character wants.” People in real life so often do not know what they want. People trick themselves, lie to themselves, fool themselves. It’s called survival, and self-mythology. I wanted to create a person who felt in her thinking how I think a person might actually think, but through literary language, mine, not stream of consciousness (with all due respect for those experiments), and maybe that’s one trick of it. I don’t do the big hand of God placing people around the Kriegspiel board and claiming to see into their deeper motivations. Even Freud would not do that. He would probably just listen to what they are saying, and let the reader interpret.

I do study Proust, for multiple technical virtuosities but also his swerve, as you say, between characters and in scenes. Certain films can help for that, too, in terms of understanding how multiple conversations at a table, or in a room, can take place and remain separate, and dissonant, and also gather themselves, accidentally, into a collective rhythm and an affect. Altman is very good at that, for instance. So is Jean Renoir. I compared her voice to water above but really it’s about neutrality, as you say. About the tone of the whole, every part has to kind of vibrate on the same internal register. It’s impossible to describe or name that register but I know when something is off from it.

Rachel Kushner
Interview in Guernica 17th February 2014

become a language

June 27, 2019

I want us to become a language for euphoria, an alphabet of limbs

Adonis
Beginnings of the Body, Ends of the Sea
trans. Khaled Mattawa

trying to write

June 20, 2019

You should always be trying to write a poem you are unable to write, a poem you lack the technique, the language, the courage to achieve. Otherwise you’re merely imitating yourself, going nowhere, because that’s always easiest.

John Berryman
Why I’m the poet I’ve become: John Berryman and the lucky thirteen
Article by Philip Levine in New York Times 26th December 1993

keepers of the unsayable

March 31, 2019

If poets are the keepers of the unsayable, then silence, not language, is a poet’s natural element, the realm where the unsayable lives. Poets fetishize silence as much as words; they are disturbed and comforted by the sounds that interrupt it. This is what John Keats means by Negative Capability, his notion of a poet’s basic qualification, the need for ‘being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason.’ This a fancy way of describing ambivalence, also a basic qualification for a poet, the ability to passionately hold two opposing feelings at once. Poets need ambivalence in order to acknowledge the unsayable and speak nonetheless. The hidden subject of all poems is the silence that surrounds them, the things that can’t be, that will never be said; a real poem points to everything beyond it.

Craig Morgan Teicher
Ars Poetica: Origin Stories

Well of course I’ve tried lavender. And pulling my memory out, ribbonlike and dripping. And shrieking into my pillow. And writing the poems. And making more friends. And baking warm brown cookies. And therapy. And intimacy. And pictures of rainbows. And all of the movies about lovers and the terrible things they do to each other. And watching the ones in other languages. And leaving the subtitles off. And listening to the language. And forgetting my name.  And feeling the dirt on my skin.  And screaming in the shower.  And changing my shampoo. And living alone. And cutting my hair. And buying a turtle. And petting the cat. And travelling. And writing more poems. And touching a different body. And digging a grave. And digging a grave. Of course, I’ve tried it. Of course I have.

yasmin belkhyr
September is a weary month

A poem comes from the heart of the poet’s experience, but it can go to the heart of any of our experiences. The underground connections that poetry makes come not merely from the way language is formed and shaped on the page and through the spoken voice,  but also from the heart of human experience, which I believe is translatable – sometimes with difficulty but often with power

Herbert Kohl
A Grain of Poetry

I’m talking about language, the literal lexicon of narcissism that poets often seem to come up against, in this or that assigned guise — be it ‘confessional’ or ‘objectivist’ or ‘language’ poetries — in the attempt to make something fresh and ‘original’ from the tones and conclusions threaded inside an inherited language we admire and take for granted — the drama of self-consciousness, pitting the presumed “self” against history and in company with one’s contemporaries. Seeking or doubting one’s place in the reconfiguration of meaning as it is carried forward in alphabet and syntax — perhaps we allow too powerful a klieg light to be trained on our most private moments of privilege.

Kathleen Fraser
Letters to Poets: Kathleen Fraser and Patrick Pritchett

enough white space

February 26, 2019

I know what I want is impossible. If I can make my language flat enough, exact enough, if I can rinse each sentence clean enough, like washing a stone over and over again in river water, if I can find the right perch or crevice from which to record everything, if I can give myself enough white space, maybe I could do it. I could tell you this story while walking out of this story. I could — it all could — just disappear.

Maggie Nelson
The Red Parts