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Kristin Prevallet’s Process Notes for New Belladonna* Book After Four Quartets

By Harriet Staff

In advance of the publication of Kristin Prevallet’s Everywhere Here and in Brooklyn, “a work of beautiful seriousness by her variation on, homage to, shadowing of, and critical intelligence about T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets,” says Rachel Blau du Plessis, Belladonna* has added some of Prevallet’s process notes to their website, lucky us. Behold an excerpt:

This project began the way many things do — an inspired conversation in a bar. I was with Colette Alexander and Richard Ryan sitting at Black Rabbit in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, and Colette started talking about how she was trained as a classical cellist but ultimately found her calling in the rhythmic intensity of rock bands and the liberation of dissonance created by her cello when treated as many rock guitars are — through a series of pedals that loop, delay, and distort the traditional “classical” string sound. I talked about how I had come of age as a poet through the experimental tradition of radical 20th century post-modern poets but that I have recently been re-investigating more traditional forms that I have, for many years, dismissed. And yet in spite of my wayward diversion from avant-garde procedures, I wasn’t willing to forego experimentation as a process of finding form in the chaotic flux of emotional and intellectual fields.

Like Four Quartets, I said. I secretly love it even though I wouldn’t admit it to most of my friends.

Like The Four Seasons, she said. I was forced to learn how to play it and spent so many years hating it… but it’s in my bones.

And Richard said, jokingly: you guys should write a piece together in which Colette recomposes Vivaldi, and Kristin re-writes Eliot.

I looked across the table at Colette’s irreverent pleasure as she thought about that idea and took a gulp of beer. That was inspiration enough.

• • •

My aunt Elaine is a Sister of Loretto who lives in a convent located in the knolls of Kentucky. I visit her every summer and decided that it was the perfect place to compose my intervention into Eliot’s canonical masterpiece. I found a wooden chair in front of a window with a view of a quiet lake and committed to sitting there for six hours per day for three days.

During that time I completed what I call the “shadowing” part of the writing process. By shadowing I don’t mean that I set out to obliterate the original text. What I am calling “shadow” is more akin to what Max Ernst called “frottage”: when an artist takes a pencil and makes a rubbing over a textured surface so that the resulting image maintains the trace or shape of the original.

As a conceptual process I took every phrase in Eliot’s poem and wrote what I considered to be its energetic opposite: for example, translating 20th century references to the 21st century and updating what I felt were the more obscure allusions. I transposed his “East Coker” and “Little Gidding” to Greenpoint, Brooklyn, my neighborhood of fifteen years. Like a sound wave, the poem started vibrating to other locations that were meaningful to my conscious antennae at the time such as Puget Sound and the Gulf of Mexico.

Behold in full.

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Posted in Poetry News on Wednesday, August 29th, 2012 by Harriet Staff.