Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The poetics of spacing out

Having low blood sugar can make you feel like shit in strange and interesting ways. One of the symptoms is confusion, so whatever else you're experiencing tends not to make sense; you can't describe it to yourself via the mechanism commonly known as "consciousness." I have been known to fall (literally) victim to low blood sugar, as in low enough to cause syncope, the sexiest word for passing out. The last time this happened to me was about four and a half years ago. I woke up at John's old apartment feeling uniquely awful; insofar as I was capable of thought, I was thinking, "I don't even understand how I feel." I was pretty sure that my eyes were dry, though -- I had fallen asleep in my contacts -- and I managed to locate the eyedrops I used to carry around in the inner zipped pocket of my bag. Tipping my head back to put them in my eyes was too much for the system, however, and blip, I was out. If I hadn't been so confused, I would have realized I was light-headed, and shouldn't be standing up. No such luck. Oddly, instead of toppling over where I was, in the doorway between the bedroom and the bathroom, I syncope-walked/stumbled forward until I met the nearest object in my path. That object was a French door.

A good thing I read this week: An interview with Alice Fulton in Memorious. Some excerpts:
I began experimenting with the double equal around 1992. I think I first used it in a poem in 1993, while working on Sensual Math. I became interested in lace making. I had some library books on the craft, and in the diagrams, the background threads that held the lace together looked like two equal signs. I learned that those background threads are called brides. This struck a chord with me; it resonated since I was interested in the background rather than foreground. In gendered terms, women, historically, have been part of the background. I wondered whether the bride sign “==” could signal a recessive space that holds everything together. The glyph itself is unignorable on the page—both present and silent. I liked that about it.

Because those little threads in lace are called brides, I began thinking about matrilineage and how visibility, in most cultures, comes through patriarchy. Naming comes through patrilineage rather than through the female line. The double equal sign “==” was a way to make such effacements visible on the page.

...

Poetry is inherently unpolemical because it leaves so much unsaid. A didactic poem is a failed poem, as I see it. If the poet builds in complexity, linguistic layers that make the poem rich and interesting, the problem of potential didacticism is solved. You can’t do all that and be pedantic at the same time. You can’t have depth and also have a t-shirt slogan. A poem beautifully, seductively, and partially resists the reader. Without some resistance, it’s not a poem. When poetry resists successfully, it sends you back up the page as much as it sends you forward.

17 comments:

  1. Sorry, but engineering has already for many years reserved '==' for sundry technical situations.

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  2. For a really good time, try giving yourself too much 'bedtime' (long-acting) insulin before bed. This happens to me when I skip dessert and then forget that fact when nighttime insulin time rolls around. When your blood sugar gets radically low while sleeping you wind up having the most alarmingly algorithmic dreams, like your brain turns into an Excel spreadsheet on which you must invent a new computer language using only Tetris blocks. They're always like that in one way or another.

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  3. That does sound somewhat alarming.

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  4. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%3D%3D#Standard_relational_operators

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  5. So, basically, really equals. Geez.

    I don't think engineering can have "reserved" that if you're only using it because other engineers decided to redefine "="

    Anyway, if syntax differs for various programming languages, just think of POETRY as another language.

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  6. Yeah, sure, I ain't got no beef. Alls I'm sayin is, you start throwin around '==', and statistically the number one famly feud thing people are gonna be thinking is, computers, not poetry.

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  7. Well the book *is* called Sensual Math.

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  8. i should probably pay attention b4 posting

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  9. I have to admit that I think it's possible for a didactic poem to succeed, and that many do succeed. Ginsberg's "America" comes immediately to mind, or Langston Hughes' "Let America Be American Again," or "If We Die" by Claude McKay--and in fact many of the best African American poems. Or Wilfred Owen's "Dulce et Decorum Est". Or Nazim Hikmet's work or Anna Akhmatova's poems about her son in Stalin's prison. I'll stop, because I could drown in examples.

    There's a rich tradition of protest poetry in many cultures, and I don't feel like building complexity and linguistic layers is the only thing that a poem can do. Poems can also be direct and assertive, or even simple. I'm not trying to be argumentative, but one thing I like about poetry is that there's not just one thing it can do.

    Sorry to differ from you on this one--I don't, usually.

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  10. You're not differing from me, you're differing from Alice Fulton. :)

    I'm reading Skin Inc. by Thomas Sayers Ellis right now, and I'm sure a lot of people would call it didactic, but I think it's great.

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  11. (In all seriousness, I share quotes when I find them interesting. A share isn't necessarily an "I agree" (which is the problem with social "likes"), just an entry point for discussion.)

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  12. Ah, I thought the bit after the break mark was you again. Tonally, it didn't sound entirely unlike you.

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  13. Ah, no, they were just answers to two different questions.

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  14. And yes, reading it again, I can see how you might mistake it for me. :)

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  15. Mark--I am glad for the shoutout to didacticism; I've recently been writing poems whose paraphrase could be lesbians make the most wonderful dynamic ever!

    @EG: lovely to see a Fulton citation.

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