Wedding cake

You do

make out life’s smorgasbord
of hot and cold dishes
on the horizon –
salivate, it’d be rude not to.

You do

see a uniform table
that splays bright orange felt
east to west, a water jug
that weeps brambles.

You do

introduce yourself to the
wedding party, you express
hereditary borrowed at
the last minute.

You do

attract by sheer
gravitation; your spontaneous
semisweet stockings
prove personable.

You do

forget the names of people
you grew up with, you loyally
remember the memorable
strangers.

You do

wrap up a slice of cake
for the road, you cradle its
moist echo-action
of the journey home.

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Wedding cake

You like weddings?

Yes, I think I understand. You’re saying that you enjoy them from a distance, just like we’re experiencing that one up there on the hill from down here. It’s like looking out of an airplane window – black spots of happiness scurrying this way and that. What a long time it has been.

Ever been married yourself? I was married, twice. Oh, no, not at all, I was married twice but to the same person. It would have looked like quite a standard sort of arrangement from the outside, as most do. Being on the inside was not quite the same. I have to admit that I do miss it. I imagine you know what I’m talking about, being a keen observer yourself.

I’m glad you stopped to chat. I bet you’re quite familiar with the inside, how the inside leads a life of its own. Sometimes it feels as though there are insides within insides. It isn’t me who contains the inside but it’s the inside that snaps me in! There were those good times.

I didn’t mean to keep you from your business – it is beautiful here on the beach; I forget sometimes that people have other things to do. Unlike me, not everyone is free to loiter out the day. What do you do, if you don’t mind me asking? I get the feeling I should already know. Of course, I’ve seen your campaign posters. Are you also involved with dogs? You’re in charge of four mutts as far as I can see.

They’re boisterous aren’t they! You must go through a stack of dog food. Big eaters can place quite a stress on the budget I’ve found – it was one of the contributing factors of my last divorce. Well I suppose you could see it like that, often it is an imbalance of desire that is at the root of the problem.

It’s been such a long time since I’ve eaten a proper wedding cake; I think I’ve forgotten what it tastes like.

Look, do you have a minute? I really think it’s important that I go up there. It’s really quite imperative to tell you the truth. I know what I have to do now. I’d only need you for half an hour, just to help me up the hill really. You could tie the dogs up on my porch – my house is just over there, up from that boat shed. What do you say? The party looks large enough; they’ll just think we’re late additions. People are too polite in those situations to ask questions. There’s really some urgency in me to get up there. It’s the only thing on hand that I can take part in anonymously – I must go to that wedding.

I know you understand – I remember a rally you did, now that I think about it, with that environmental focus. I could see by the way you whisked up the crowd that you weren’t one of those types who just pay lip service to community involvement – you really seemed to stand behind your words! I’m not afraid to tell you where my vote will lie in the next bi-election.

Yes, I promise, the dogs will be absolutely fine.

Air and the human heart

I’ve been reading an interview online called ‘The Complexity of the Human Heart’, a conversation between poet Marie Howe and David Elliott. You can find it here:

http://www.bu.edu/agni/interviews/online/2004/howe-elliott.html

Howe’s position as a poet is both experimental and personal.

After my workshop last week I’ve been thinking about how I want to both experiment with levels of meaning and emotion in the work, and further make transparent or intensify the moment of reading, the process that the reader goes through when navigating the poem.

I want to evoke the sensation for the person reading the work that they are discovering the poem, as I discovered it and also in ways that haven’t happened yet. In this sense the poem does not resolve an issue but allows for the issues motion and commotion to transpire in it. The tone of my work can often feel ‘burdened’ for a reader and often the first instinct can be that something important in the poem is not being discovered.

It’s a challenge for me to find ways in which I can facilitate a situation in which someone reading my work can be comfortable pulling out what meaning they can, as well as a sense that the logic of the poem, say its repetitions, synonyms, echo’s, beats or rhythms, have been realized as another part of the poems over-all message and the commotion that disturbs the message.

This essential tension inhabits longer fiction through narrative or character development, how a character grapples with their relationships and environment alongside their less accessible inner world. In a way I’m trying to realize the dynamics of transparency and inarticulateness that shape perception and experience. There are many poets engaged with this, and I’m trying to figure out how I want to approach it, what I want to prioritize  and of course build up the language I need to realize it – a kind of blind anticipation and subsequent training.

Howe puts it brilliantly when she says, ‘I also think it is my desire to have [the poems] be experiences that actually happen between the speaker and the hearer so that they happen in the air.’

This is an interesting way to picture a poem – the parts that you see/hear and the parts that are in the air – that is an exciting tension!

Howe also say’s that, ‘All too often we create a self we can live with [in poetry].’ This is something to think about as I position the livable and unlivable components of self, not in the be-all-and-end-all sense but those forms of self-consciousness that define our temporal and special being in the world.

This is all very serious sounding, so back to Howe again for a moment;

‘So I think maybe when we say confessional we mean a poet who writes about one thing, beats one drum, and we are supposed to feel something for that poet that’s different from what we feel for ourselves or other people.’

This is very intriguing to me, that the poet allows for a unique kind of relationship to exist in the world, that allows a sense of perspective or position that is alternative, while wholly accessible, or identifiable. This is the space of the imaginary and real in which these poles aren’t opposed, they just flux in the hope of a capacity for something to happen in the air of the encounter between writer and reader.

Howe;

‘Was it Hopkins who said, “A taste of self”? I guess I still believe in the soul even if I don’t believe in identity.’

For Howe, whatever you call this space – wild capacity, self-soul, air, it is the ability to explore a variety or complexity of the human heart in the poem that grounds the relationship or contract between writer and reader.

‘It’s the complexity of the human heart that I think is poetry’s subject–the complexity of the human experience. I think the best poets writing today represent that complexity in the broadest, deepest sense. So there are poets who tell personal stories but honour that complexity’.

Howe has written several collections of poetry, all quite different explorations of the hearts complexity. She has some great advice about writing’s coming into being:

‘Howe: I said I feel something has me in its mouth chewing me and there is nothing for me to do but be chewed, and Stanley said, “Yes, and you must wait to see who you’ll be when it’s done with you.” Because I wanted to write right away, and I couldn’t, and I had to wait to see who I was going to be after this experience sort of had me for a while. I feel that’s what’s happening now. I have to wait and keep writing, but wait to see what really wants to have a hold of me next and who I am and then to write the next real collection.’

Toril Moi and Michael Palmer: Writing aesthetic questions

Toril Moi gives a really articulate response to historical practices of feminist critique as well as current approaches to theory and practice in this area in her lecture ‘I am not a Woman Writer’, a 2007 Feminist Theory Lecture at the Tate Modern.

Here’s a link to the podcast of this excellent discussion:

http://www.tate.org.uk/onlineevents/podcast/mp3/2007_11_20_toril_moi.mp3


Moi looks at the impact of these different imperatives (theory/practice) on a political as well as ethical position formative to the development of the contemporary writer.

There are many things I could talk to here, though I want to focus on the position she advocates – that its important to keep your options open as a writer, whether this means inhabiting at times a woman’s perspective or inhabiting one of many other perspectives that broaden the encounters, the scope of contact we have with an articulation of the human condition.

I want to talk a bit about aesthetics in relation to writing. I also want to look at the relevance of aesthetics to a political as well as ethical position for the writer to inhabit as they expand variously ways to speak the human condition.

The political and writing

Michael Palmer talked in his Master-class address at IIML on Friday about a number of approaches to a politics of writing, tracking a number of practices by authors and accompanying theoretical contexts. Like Moi says in her lecture, he also emphasised that, ‘theories depend on the questions you are raising’. I would also say that practice also depends on these questions.

In this post I want to explore where these questions are derived from and what the aim of this rhetorical imperative is as it concerns the writer.

Michael Palmer linked much of the writing he talked to, to a navigation of urgency and patience implied by a politically responsive practice/theory of writing. The political emerges in various encounters between people, events, disasters and dreams that make different demands on individuals – temporal, spacial, linguistic and inaudible etc.

Moi also reminds us that our responses to these demands are also contingent on our ethical positions, that sometimes a politics alone cannot withstand the demands of an event or encounter, in the broader context of human experience (of which the political is a significant part).

What is common here is that people both activate and witness life in political ways, they also do so morally and aesthetically.

I want to tease this out more

The French writer Mourice Blonchot thinks about the Disaster – he says that in a radical way we always respond to a disaster that hasn’t happened yet – the disaster exceeds us – it must also remain ahead in order to make us fully question our motives for following in its wake.

This is interesting but raises a number of political, moral and aesthetic questions.

Ethics and writing

If we relate the announcement of disaster yet to be, to the development of modernist and post-modernist shifts in aesthetics we see a link and a currency to how writing and ethics inform each other in the aesthetic moment.

We could say that we respond to an ‘event’ of aesthetics that hasn’t happened yet. We could say that this aesthetic elusiveness also allows us to question why we are following it. In a strange way the aesthetic maintains vulnerability, because it requires that we ask it hard questions. We are required to navigate it with all the resources we have, even though we don’t have a complete picture of it.

In this there is a little bit of leeway, a flurry of past/present/future orientated around openness, but one that has an evolving and perceivable shape that we must respond to and work within.

While this is interesting it is also of help to consider Toril’s position that ethics must be able to cope with theories that may exist in the world and practices that are yet to come or inhabit the everyday experience. This is an inversion of our usual expectations of theory and practice, of which she insists there is constant vacillation.

Aesthetics and writing

Moi ends her discussion by stating that writing provides a hope – a hope that comes from the writer saying, ‘This is what I see, do you see it too?’

In this sense there is an exchange between writer and reader, but there is only a shape still-in-the-making at the point of exchange, so you don’t know precisely what you are giving, or what you are getting.

You are grounded by that question ‘do you see it too?’ – and the shape of it, it’s aesthetic shape, through which you aim towards an exchange, and manage the various questions that demand active response, ethical and political.

In this sense the aesthetic continues to ask us why we are going to follow it in the way that we are, even though we don’t have a complete picture of it. It demands that we follow it in a way that allows us to bear with it morally and politically, that we be successfully companion to it.

Introducing relatives

Introducing relatives – someone here has criminal buttons,
the attachment

To each other is palpable, the flesh of shared buttonholes
excites the dogs

Another has tea stained lips, or two men buck shoulders in
westerly wicks of light

A small red woman has the skin of a revelation, most seem
to leave her to her wine

Loads of lulls arrive at once, a frontal attack that dismisses
the rear on account that

Escape is unearthed more on one side, and the group hang
like a loosened arm.