Poem-essay 1: Jena Osman's "The Network"
Poem-essay, the word for it, comes from Jena herself, a small, beautiful woman who lives on a street in a former colonial capital, Philadelphia. Intensity in poets is beautiful to me. The strict expression, re-focused on the writing to come: at the expense of minor forms of optimism. This is a character sketch. This is a beginning note towards the form I attend to in the same way that, if I cooked, I'd attend to on a regular basis, checking the oven a little too often; thus ruining, perhaps, the rise or tread of what was: cooking. (Brisket.) (Hearts of palm.)
What I loved, reading "The Network," was the work with a triplicate grid, something resembling a G.I.S map: the near-liquid planetary record of a volcanic seam on the ocean bed: overlain with surface images of debris. Page 29: "A mapped overlay, a red line charting the course, shifting through stacks of frosted glass."
And what happens to the image -- not the image, the materials that constitute the image -- as it's tracked, by the poet, through the three opaque layers, which are not layers. They are deeds. They are what someone else lay down, in another time. Like agriculture. Or sheets. "A straight line - an icicle from the Arctic - falls into an eye, the boy disappearing. The adventurer, wearing mittens searches all over the world for the boy. In one red layer, he is discovered at the North." Page 38? The book is out of reach. Should get up to check. Instead this:
Creativity Note 1.b.: Write a grid until it fails. Watch something burn or melt in an era. Track that ash. What "emits" in the "overlay." Write a luminous boyfriend. Boyfriend is the wrong word. Tip. How does a grid conduct the energy or wetness of the icicle through the "vacant plains" of glass? Write the corner of the eye that collects the water streaming from the icicle's indigo-blue point. Dusk. How Lorca lit a candle at 4 p.m. To write. These are notes towards a race riot. I want to write an event that exceeds my verbal capacity to describe it. That can't be rendered in a narrative form. Instead: Write a poem-essay that is a record of what "gathers, spreads and circulates." Page 94. Write something that circulates upon an "eccentric orbit." Page 107. That hurts to stop. Reading. This is writing. Write something. Write a poem-essay that is "translucent, veined, watermarked..." Page 81. That someone else can trace, with their fingertip, or squint at, on an aeroplane, above the earth, below.
This is the cafe on the corner of the street where Jena lives, where I read the book. Re-read it. In the place where it was written. A quick espresso: "ash blinking red" -- and then the bus, on the corner, to the train-station. The metro. The airport. Then home:
Bhanu Kapil lives in Colorado where she teaches at Naropa University. She also teaches in Goddard College’s low-residency MFA. She is the author of a number of full-length works of poetry/prose, including The Vertical Interrogation of Strangers (Kelsey Street Press, 2001), Incubation: a space for monsters (Leon Works, 2006), humanimal...