More brief excerpts of books to be categorized as “required reading.”
Plats by John Trefry (Inside the Castle, 2014)
This is a difficult book to describe, and partially because it is a book that is so much about description. In the tradition of writers like Michel Butor & Philippe Sollers, but also seemingly so much in conversation with Gaston Bachelard and Rainer Maria Rilke, especially in relation Rilke’s famous declaration: “For a long time nothing, and then suddenly one has the right eyes.” The way in which the self notices the surrounding world, sees, notices one’s own self and inhabits a body that perceives so profoundly in language, is explored on a level that becomes haunting, unsettling, yet addicting.
With my own obsessions with slowness and space, this book is both slow and urgent, mesmerizing and hallucinatory, and it’s hard to look past things in the real world when the impulse shifts to looking within and without and between.
Joe Milazzo writes in a review: “Still processing the complexities of this text. Shades of Butor, Philippe Sollers and even Baudelaire in Trefry’s careful, even sometimes carefully grotesque, prosody—so, French—but this is a book that is deeply American in its concern with the self. Plats is also one of the most original meditations on sensory experience I can recall reading. And, yes, there is a narrative here, and it possesses dimensions (modern as well as ancient), but this is a book the requires you to perceive it first and only to read it ‘later,’ that is, through the medium of your own deliberation.” (Also read this great conversation between Joe Milazzo and John Trefry on Entropy)
Enormous things change. The ocean laps back and forth between the coasts and swirls down underneath itself into lightless caverns. The sand drifts along down the beach and the sky where it was filled with clouds turns bright brown and where it had been white a faint rain falls and will go on falling. I try to keep it off of my skin. It is a sudden discovery of old pain, rootless and rattling. It runs down my coat and over my shoes and through the veins on my hands. I lift the hair off of my neck and when I walk a raindrop falls under my collar, runs between my shoulderblades and soaks into my underclothes. It makes my neck hard and I feel that I need to pivot my head to keep my neck from crumbling into flakes. I stop under a street tree.
Each color body drifts through the fabric of the air bearing the profile of a local object: a chair back, a long conical pleat, a stack of table cloths. With a breath, the spectral furniture is drawn in, and exhaled in a cloud. The poses of the hall are exacted in the emptiness among the richly moist air. The darkness between the floating beads conjures the foliate pattern of the rug in waxy negative space and the air between each bead is the pale mauve of swollen breathing. The air space between each bead, each complete refracted room containing a breathing body, is an empty chasm filled with that breath. Each bead floating away from the rug makes visible the entire expanse of its pattern. In the space between breaths, in stillness, reflection is the ideal depiction of a disintegrating reality.
Farther Traveler by Ronaldo V. Wilson (Counterpath, 2015)
Desire and loss, mourning and fucking, the spaces in between, the crevices, the heartbeats and the waste, the trauma that belongs to someone who desires, the trauma that belongs to no one, love and weeping, nose hairs and stinging aggression. I wish I could articulate better what the writing of Ronaldo Wilson is and does, but more than existing, it moves and traverses, and more than doing, it complicates and enacts. Because the writing is so much more than simply being about something, the writing evades any label. Good. Labels are often so unproductive. I’ve admired Ronaldo Wilson for awhile. He is fierce and intelligent and witty and active in a way that seems transcendent. I remember one morning at a literary conference on my way to a morning panel, running into Ronaldo while on his morning jog.
Joshua Marie Wilkinson’s blurb for the book captures much of how I feel too, about the book: “The secret of the body, for Ronaldo V. Wilson, is that there are no secrets. As such, every drop of sweat in his new book refracts the overlap of the abject and the fleeting, the familiar and the anonymity of the body in sex and disintegration. Farther Traveler maps the fusion between losing a father who’s impossible to let go of and the excavation of what desire might mean for a life of radical possibility. For Wilson, the work of the poem—and our expectant pleasure—is to disclose what the self might become if thought could account for what the body seems given to need. And if it’s true that ‘You’ve become the body you’ve become,’ then that’s only the beginning.”
POETICS STATEMENT IN THE GREAT AMERICAN GRILLE
The chubby son in front of me, cow-licked & hotel sleepy, asks his tall, muscled father, “Is it possible to start a fire with just your hands?” Not pondering in front of his row of French toast, he says to the boy, “No.” To my right, a flip-flopped teenage girl is the big daughter of a giant in flesh tone pressure socks. He’s thankful to have brought an extra pair of shorts after spilling syrup all down his front. He moans, “Son of a gun,” before wiping himself down with a busser’s towel. The daughter says, “I’m sorry,” twice, in the sweetest voice, before she adds, “The syrup’s more watery today.” On my left, in white New Balance sneakers, a fat and bald husband fills to stretch his marble bordered Florida Beefy-T. In my periphery are four buckets of Philly Cream Cheese, four sausages swimming in the mix of syrup and a pastry basking beside more French toast. The husband crumb-lipped, puffs, “I need some water.” “They’ll come, you have to ask,” the wife says, sucks a pineapple cube and tells her man, “This is good.” “It looks sweet,” he returns. For me, poetry is in these found places of being, discovered by taking notes, sometimes of the everyday drama in how a people consume, taking in what they want in some morning, while I do, too, in the clink of talk, fork and plate. I keep thinking of fire, the image of hands rubbing together, the sound of fingerprint skin on palms, the feel of fat, blood, and bone within. I find myself in the center of looking into shapes that surround me. I attempt to make patterns, layering one into the next, often with such questions: How to participate, to point, to pull back, to listen? Where do I fit in between these tables: eater, poet, judge, hungry person, floater? I want to tell the son, Yes! I return to the buffet—even after my omelet, two pieces of French toast, two strips of bacon, a bowl of fruit, a Refresh tea—to get more. My last plate is nothing but a few Honeydew melon chunks, two spoons of corned beef hash & a mini-muffin. As the couple is about to leave, I pull my laptop close into my body. The wife struggles to get up—the husband, standing, holds her hands and pulls, wedging her out. Walking, her body is bent to the left, partly collapsed, turning, exiting in the same direction.
Cheer Up Femme Fatale by Kim Yideum (Translated by Ji yoon Lee, Don Mee Choi, Johannes Göransson) (Action Books, 2016)
This book struck me in a very physical way. As if so many of these actions were happening inside my gut, bowels, heart twisting and stretching in the shadows of contradiction, loss, resentment, conjuration, desire.
The poetry in this book is so much about seeking out those grotesque and creepy spaces where, despite the filth and shame, we still must reside. I think of the woman in Lee Chang Dong’s film Poetry, crying in the shower as she seeks to write a single poem as she struggles to hold on to her memory and with an unspeakable act committed by her grandson. The trauma, though not entirely hers, affects her, wraps her forcefully and though she can’t articulate why, the possibility within poetry seems like the only ghost that may save her.
Here too, I want to ask along with the writing, why poetry? And of course this question is impossible and necessary. Why sadness? Why regret? Why forgotten? Why pain?
PAST THE GARDEN OF GHOST POETS
One day, a woman neither old nor young appears in this very place.
The woman doesn’t have anything to say. If she opens her mouth, a mole-like drivel pops out and digs holes all over the lawn. She isn’t hungry, just tired. The official events take place at midnight. Nobody care about anybody.
There is a bathtub in the backyard. A curtain with a drawing of a small bird drapes the tub.
A woman starts lathering up the washcloth with soap. A dried-up piece of soap. The sequence is off. Stretching her arms backward, she slowly undoes her blouse buttons. I shouldn’t have bought this just for its lovely color. It’s hard to pull off the wet jeans that cling to her legs. Trying to shake off the panties wrapped around her ankles, she ends up kicking a rock. She grabs her toe, flops down and takes a deep breath. The ground is cold and the edge of the tub is also cold. To find a rubber plug for the tub, she grabs a fat giant spider’s leg and walks around beneath the flowering trees. There are no grapes or gooseberries. Then she struggles to lift the manhole-cover-sized plug and plug the drain. She lies down with her legs spread. She’s lonesome. She slowly turns on the faucet.
No water comes out.
She lies in the dry tub and writes a poem.
The abandoned daughter seeks out her mother for the same reason that a star rises in the sky.
Then what would be the reason for writing a poem?
She stores away many questions about the world, setting aside her ambition to be a writer. Her life isn’t something that needs to be solved; her life just exists, somewhere beyond….Actually, she doesn’t really know.