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Journal, Day Five

By Rachel Zucker

On 06.21.06 mrsvejk wrote: “With all due respect, I think the autonomy of the poem is bullcrap unless I am missing something.”

I could spend many happy hours turning over and (mis)reading your sentences.
I like your use of “bullcrap.” I like thinking about how much (or how little) respect is “due” me and why. (I like thinking about the economy of respect which is owed and due and paid.) I like thinking about what it might mean for a poem not to have autonomy, for the poem to be a mini-me or slave or shadow, a draught. I like thinking about what it might mean for a poem to have autonomy and for that autonomy to be made of bullcrap. (If it were bullcrap methinks it would be impossible to miss.) I like thinking about whether it is true that you don’t care if my poems are true. I want to believe you; I’m not sure I do. I like to think about what honesty sounds like. If there were a recipe for an honest-sounding poem, what would it be? I often tell my students that a poem needs to be honest (which is different from sounding honest) but doesn’t need to be true, certainly not autobiographically true. Confession: I’m not sure I believe this. I’m not sure I understand what I mean when I tell my students their poems need to be honest.

And your most provocative comment—“what happens to life when it is lived so self-consciously”—ah, that is a question that fascinates and confounds me.

Nothing, I think, happens to life, but something does happen to us, to the way we experience our lives, and I’m not sure at all if what happens is good or bad. On the one hand, I belong to what might be considered a cult of living in a state of high self-consciousness; I hardly understand the alternative. My closest friends are super-self-aware, introspective, and perhaps as a result, full of self-doubt. At the same time, I often wonder if living in a state of heightened self-consciousness is always good for me (or my friends). It’s hard to fall asleep at night, hard to make decisions, hard to take things at face value. For example, I went on the hike with the express purpose of not “making anything” out of it. I didn’t bring my camera; I didn’t bring my notebook. But what did I do? I turned the experience over and over in my mind and couldn’t get the whole path-from-the-other-direction epiphany out of my mind. Then, when it came time to sit down to the blank screen, I made what my husband called a “sickeningly perfect metaphor” out of my hike. I dissected the experience and got all self-conscious about it. It makes for fascinating interior and exterior conversation, but it’s also easy to get quagmired or quicksanded in this kind of thinking and looking and being. Everything seems to be caught up in everything else and the only way to untangle the multi-dimensional web is to embrace a nothing-matters, existentialist attitude. Either everything matters all the time, one’s life is a story full of significant details, the world abounds in evidence and meaning, or nothing matters and we are animals stupidly obsessed with the state of human existence.

Perhaps there is a perfect middle-ground somewhere: a way of being aware and alert to life without being obsessed with one’s own “self” and the storyness and story-makingness of human experience. I’ve rarely, if ever, stood on that kind of solid ground. On my wedding day I was aware, as a butterfly flew under the chuppah, that this butterfly moment was part of the “story” of my wedding and I tried not to think about the word “ephemeral” or of a painfully convoluted paper my husband had written about linear and non-linear time in Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying (something about the cart and the river and the womb of time), but I did think about these things. And, a few months ago, when I was trying every medical and alternative therapy after the first D & C failed to do what it was supposed to do and the miscarriage was getting scarier and scarier I went for a Mayan abdominal massage and the woman asked if she could put on music and I said yes and she asked if she could chant and I said yes and she asked if she could pray and I said yes and she asked if she could sing to my uterus and I said yes and I thought, if you are going to do this, then do it all the way and really just be here and believe in this and experience this and go with it, give yourself up to this, be a body, be in your body and get your body right again and let whatever needs to pass pass, and I said yes and lay there listening to the music and the chanting and the praying and the singing and then she said “now take a moment to listen to your uterus and see if your uterus has something it wants to tell you” and I thought, “oh my God, I’ve got to remember these exact words” and she went on “now, if there is something you want to say to your uterus…” and I thought “…because I have now entered a surreal realm of utter new-age bullcrap this is just too much to take, there is no way, no WAY I’m not going to write about this!” (Guess what? The massage didn’t work.) And whether the writing (or thinking of my life as a story (worth) telling) is a defense against despair or sign of great neediness or a personal shortcoming or a diagnosable disorder, it’s certainly a habit I’ve never been able to break. Even when I tried the medication that stops the thought cycling and noticed how much easier it was to get things done, well, then I wrote about that.

It’s late and I’m a bit overwhelmed by the ideas swirling overhead that I meant to write about and didn’t get to.

*“Fodder” for poetry, what a horrible term. My children as “cannon fodder” for my poems. The poem as a cannon, as a war, people/experience as “expendable.”

*Tom Thompson’s question about imagination. I think I don’t believe in imagination. If I do I think it is God. I’m not sure. I do believe in Fancy.


*Why Lashon Harah (“evil tongue/language,” bad mouthing others) is such a serious sin. How this type of talk must be, by definition, “true” and different from gossip. The personal experience poem as Lashon Harah.

*The difference between engaging personal experience (DA Powell, Arielle Greenberg, Miranda Field, Joy Katz, Katie Ford, Deborah Landau, David Trinidad immediately spring to mind) and “exploiting” personal experience. Complicating personal experience: Katy Lederer, Mary Szybist, Larissa Szporluk. Abstracting personal experience: Michael Palmer, Leslie Scalapino, Lyn Hejinian, Lisa Lubasch. The usefulness, validity and implications of these distinctions. Where to put Jorie Graham? Brenda Hillman? Joe Wenderoth? The pleasure of listing. The ridiculousness of lists.

*Spalding Gray, David Antin, Allen Ginsberg.

*“The Prophet” by Alice Notley. “A Few Days” by James Schuyler.

*How the incredibly handsome waiter at Café This Way where I ate dinner tonight had parentheses tattooed around his Adam’s apple.

Posted in Uncategorized on Friday, June 23rd, 2006 by Rachel Zucker.