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Tsering Wangmo Dhompa’s My rice tastes like the lake
Friday’s Feature at The Volta is a good one: Daniel DeKerlegand takes the time to look at Tsering Wangmo Dhompa’s 2011 book, My rice tastes like the lake (Apogee Press), writing that Dhompa’s undoing of the narrative self stems from Buddhist meditation, and that:
Dhompa’s most apparent American predecessor seems to be Lyn Hejinian— particularly in her 1984 book, Redo— as both are poets primarily of thoughts; like Hejinian, Dhompa makes an effort to think though or around her own thinking, in order to remain aware of the present while at the same time experiencing it. In the relatively vertical experience of reading, this is achieved through a succession of lines that appear deflective but in fact reflect underlying readings of their preceding lines. In the poem “Selvage: for country,” Dhompa writes:
Thoughts do not form words to frame the world
as I do. Perhaps desire should be the measure
for action. How will I maintain flowers or decency
in this downpour? He loves me. Such an ordinary
arrangement alters circumstance and favors,
a narrative henceforth to be held as example
Immediately, Dhompa devises a negative logical statement within the first line, that “thoughts do not form words to frame the world.” As the sentence follows through the line break, the agent of action is revealed to be the “I” of the poem; thus, the paradox here is that, though the poetic line reflects the “thought” of the poet, the words themselves that compose the line are, in fact, mere frames created by the conscious self and are illusions of the original thought.
The poem continues by stating that “perhaps desire should be the measure/for action,” with the word measure taken to mean both a means of assessing an “action” and poetic measure’s inherent function in lineation. Dhompa’s maxim could mean that the only method to understand “action” would be a measuring of “desire,” since words are inept frames, though desire itself is as illusory as a thought. However, as Williams had it in his 1948 essay, “The Poem as a Field of Action,” “The only reality that we can know is MEASURE”; in this context, through the ambiguity of the signifier “measure,” the maxim could mean simultaneously that desire should become or embody the poetic measure, and thus reveal a more “authentic” reflection of action or thought. Dhompa enacts such measure when she continues “How will I maintain flowers or decency/in this downpour? He loves me,” reflecting a conscious digression from “flowers” to “decency” in order to make apparent the “frames” of language that itemize a spectrum of desire and thought.
It’s nice to read about Dhompa’s work again. Read the full review here, and check out what else is new at The Volta–looks like Cyrus Console, Martin Corless-Smith, and Kristen Nelson all have new content there today.