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Journal, Day Five

By Catherine Wagner

My last morning in Boise, at Catherine Jones’ and Michael Fitzgerald’s, thanks guys. I’ve been on the porch trying to catch some wireless off the neighbors. Got my first blog comment from a woman yesterday—thanks Danielle Pafunda. I was starting to feel weird blogging about motherhood and having only guys respond. Moms, are you busy or something? Michael is making French toast. His first novel, Radiant Days, is about to come out. He’s nervous I gather but it’s good; hope it does well. Ignatius Fitzgerald, who is three, wants me to put an O here. There you go, kid. Eamon is here too; he’s a sack-of-sugar baby with a blissed-out open-mouthed grin as if he hadn’t been up every two hours all night.

I want to close with Barbara Guest, a poet whose poetics were self-consciously apolitical; I think she thought poems were here to do a kind of work that was not political work, and that we should let them do that work. She created fantastically beautiful objects in which the passages have a mysterious relationship to one another, an invisible pull, like the relationships between objects in space. The magnetic field is active and silently ringing. I only have Guest’s Selected with me. Guest was so productive in the last part of her life that the Selected seems bizarrely unrepresentative at this point, though it came out not much more than a decade before she died last year. I hear that a Collected will come out soon, and it will be a treasure (and some of her later books, such as The Red Gaze, are still in print). It’s useful to me to look at Guest when my head starts spinning as I try to think through the relationship between politics and poetics. I don’t believe it is possible to be apolitical in one’s writing; I disagree with Guest about that; one is always espousing a politics, a view of or view to power, unconsciously or not. But to abandon intent, to work in the material, to make something that is alive in its response to itself, active in all its attentive parts—that’s what Guest did in all her writing. A serious engagement with the material we’re working in can jar or unfold the categories we use for thinking. I’d call such an effort political, but perhaps, for Guest, understanding the effort as political limited the activity.

From “The Screen of Distance”:

…Narratives are in
the room where the screen waits suspended like
the frame of the girder the worker will place upon
an axis and thus make a frame which he fills with
a plot or a quarter inch of poetry to encourage
nature into his building and the tree leaning
against it, the tree casting language upon the screen.

Here is the beautiful death image from an earlier poem, “Red Lilies,” in Moscow Mansions. Onward Barbara, and all, thank you for being here.

The pilot light
went out on the stove.

The paper folded like a napkin
other wings flew into the stone.

Posted in Uncategorized on Friday, December 15th, 2006 by Catherine Wagner.