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The Usable Field…Let’s try this again
I just finished Jane Mead’s new book, The Usable Field, and wanted to post a poem from it because I read with interest, chagrin, and both agreeable and argumentative impulses, the comments following Doug Powell’s post on Larissa Szporluk (it’s in the archive now, see “New Bat City.”) One reader made the remark that she found the posted poem “hermetic” and that touched off the blogostorm. I know I’m touching on the issue of accessibility, the discussions of which I haven’t seen yet (should dig in the archive, I know), but I was tickled to hear it described by one post-er as pies circling around in a display case at a diner.
We could say that meaning is collaborative—the writer does half the work and the reader does the other half in creating the poem. I felt that the post-er who had questions about Szporluk’s poem got some pretty old lectures, like the one about poetry as analogous to abstract-expressionist art (I’m not sure the analogy holds, given the poem is (isn’t it?) to be experienced in a temporal way, from start to finish, whereas the painting doesn’t give those kind of instructions. Daisy’s comparison to music videos is a better analogy because they too are temporal.)
What I thought would be more fun than arguing about accessibility (to use the carnival instead of the combat model) is if people who drift through here put up their readings of/responses to one of Jane’s poem as a way of creating collaborative meaning. Disclaimer: Jane is my friend. I always say: Jane, what are you talking about? And I suspect she thinks: Lucia, must you be so long-winded, you could take half the words in your poems out! But, seeing as we’ve known each other 25 years and are not going to change, we better come to collaboration soon or else we’ll be dead.
Now, a reader could say: “Hey, wait, I just came off waitressing at Denny’s, working graveyard (should have known when I majored in English thirty years ago that it was going to be tough to get a job). I’m too tired to collaborate; just let me just curl up with unfashionably-accessible poet X, at least I’m one of the few people who check poetry books out of the library.” Or the reader might say: “What, just because I’m a waitress you think I haven’t read Adorno?”
Anyway here is the poem. This is one that, for me, passes the memorability test the blog was talking about.
GYPSUM WHEN YOU ARRIVE
For just as there is alabaster
in the marketplace there is
the remembrance of gypsum
in the sun,—when the body
watches. If you listen
you will turn toward a remote
and ancient calling: alien:
you survive: beyond the brownish air
around the globe another
streaked sky waits—as if for
a flickering-of-wings which it cannot
contain. As if for the flinch
in your voice.—Which it can.