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Austen, Marvin, Homeopathy, L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E
On my way to work this morn listening to local NPR interviewing the woman who wrote this book called Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict (and maybe now its sequel). She was rattling on in a very professional way and then she described a doctor’s approach in her novel as very “homeopathic,” in that he/she wasn’t just totally committed to prescribing meds for everything right away. This reminded me right away of this review of Cate Marvin’s book Fragment of the Head of a Queen that I saw a while ago in the Women’s Review of Books (which, amazingly, doesn’t seem to have a website) that just astonished me. Here’s the passage that astonished me:
“Like so many younger poets, Marvin’s approach to language bears the influence of almost three decades of LANGUAGE-writing. Regularly, she cooks up an inebriated broth of words that tosses us here, there, and everywhere.
The world felt very bad. Every leaf looked
Like it needed a cigarette. Gutters took
Cups strewn at their lips, turned them
Upright to offer tiny pleas for change.
Windows enacted a communal decision
To condense, despite the consistent lack
Of rain. All lunged things grew asthmatic …
“T.S. Eliot said,”Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal,” and Marvin has been a good thief. She has raided the LANGUAGE larder, making off with the parts of that practice most useful for her work and putting the rest back on the shelf. She is not a party-liner; thus, the linguistic and textural excitements of her language are always accompanied by a voice that is particular and individual, even as it conjures dreary anonymity, ennui, and a general sense of life as a waste. Although her poems are not narrative in any conventional way, something constantly swishes beneath her gorgeous, mellifluous surfaces. That omnipresent something suggests that there is, ultimately, a heart of the poem to locate, a purpose to cleave to.”
There’s just something so wrong about the idea that Cate Marvin’s (veddy interesting for totally other reasons) poetry is in some way indebted to the actual movement being referred to. It’s an analogy between the misuse of homeopathy to loosely refer to all things “alternative medicine” and the misuse of “LANGUAGE”–note the missing E=Q=U=A=L signs–to refer to all kinds of recent (in the last what hundred years) experimentalist modes of uses of language that I’m trying to make here, or that made itself in my morning head this morning.