Poetry News

Memory as a Form of Diving: Claire Donato on Joanna Newsom

By Harriet Staff

Poet Claire Donato takes to music criticism swimmingly, writing at The Fanzine about Joanne Newsom's fourth album, Divers (Drag City, 2015), which "crystallizes toward the end of her third decade" (her here being author Donato). She's written about Newsom before, which she duly notes: "At the time, she had been listening to these records across the landscape of six years. Now it is January 2016. It has been six (more) years." More:

(Like memory, writing is a form of diving—so says the book that gives word-objects their meanings. As text encounters the page, it falls and twists and rotates. Once underwater, it holds its breath for an unknown length a of time, becoming a black box.)

Running in place, she listens to Divers, draws a cognitive map. Stars and daughters. Eggs and oysters. Vapors and glass. The pull of the ocean. Moon’s gentrification. Forced eviction. The sun’s pink illuminating a line of trenches. These images are contents to acquire, code, store, recall, and decode.

Of course, there is no telling as to whether she is actually running, because she is running in place (time is taller than space), just as there is no telling whether she is drawing a map. Rather, she may be diving, remembering something, a black box to which she returns as she writes, seated at a metal table or in bed, at an imaginary desk or on a train, music looping, her mind flickering with shards of the past edging their way into the present. (To survive you need an edge, Anne Carson says. To which the record replies: Stand brave, life-liver.)

For the sake of this argument, let’s agree: she is diving. (Okay.)

Also: she is keeping secrets. (This is nothing new.)

And: she is tracking impressions. (See above.)

Further, she is looping the record in order to locate a series of coordinates via which to view her transformation, e.g., 40° 26′ 26.2464” N, 79° 59′ 45.1968” W.

Wherever she is, she is writing this essay.

Whenever she is, she exists in the past.

Now everything is different.

Now everything is the same.

Memory as a Form of Diving

If memory is a form of diving, she is plunging headfirst into her past’s pool, or she is standing on her head, looking at her life from an inverted perspective.

Read the full essay at The Fanzine. Don't forget!