For months, I couldn’t write. It was the loveliest vertigo, sort of like drinking tequila but without the hysterical blindness. My blackbirds were wingless, legless. They sputtered on the ground like firecrackers while you played flare gun, fire engine. I smelled like grass and rabbits, waited in the field for days for lightning, wanted that spark, the mailbox sticky with wasps. I could say I wanted order, all my ducks lined up like a carnival, playing hide and seek, patty cake, with the wedding rings. Shiny, sharp toothed and singing. But I meant I wanted us strung together like lanterns. A sort of morse code in my molars. Once for no, twice for yes. Meant I wanted turbulence, trouble, to be sawed in half by wanting it.
Kirsty Bowen,Vinyl Poetry Online, Volume 1
I. Kirsty Bowen writes "havoc" and
II. submits it to Vinyl Poetry where it is published and picked up by
III. fluttering-slips on tumblr,
IV. where it is seen and re-posted by apoetreflects, and
V. since I follow apoetreflects on my tumblr blog, "havoc" shows up on my dashboard; I add it to the posts I've marked "Like" (because I'm interested in the way the words move) and then, tonight, as I'm reviewing my tumblr posts for the day I get thinking that
VI. maybe tonight on Throughlines (since I've had three nights in a row where outside engagements have kept me from posting anything) I'd lead with "havoc" and perhaps write something that attempts to mirror it in some way, maybe some thing like
The weeks have been speckled and sere, the evening bells smothered by scooters and Escalades. I lie beside the fountain, fingers trailing along the damp copper pipes, and wait for the pinch I know is coming. One thousand one, one thousand two… ouch. The scent of watermelon lingers; the knives glisten in the fading light. I can sense that there outside the door, eyes hooded, biding your time. I don't know how long this can go on, but it's probably better than what is around the corner. Are you still there?
The other day in class I got talking about writing which is exploratory in the sense that the writer makes a decision to abandon one or more of the default assumptions about what writing is supposed to do in order to play around with some other aspect of language that is usually not the first thing on the agenda. John Ashbery, has made a career of writing gorgeous, thought-provoking poems which don't make literal sense. If the default assumption is that we write in order to convey an idea, Ashbery basically says "What happens if we take the sense-making mandate off the table. The what can we do with language? He's not at extreme pole, by any means: his poems often do drift in and out of focus. Sometimes you can almost start to follow him, at which point he typically veers away. Here's a typical example, chosen more or less at random:
The man with the red hat,
and the polar bear, is he here too?
The window giving on shade,
Is that here too?
And all the little helps,
My initials in the sky,
The hay of an arctic summer night?
Drops dead in sight of the window.
Lovely tribes have just moved to the north.
In the flickering evenings the martins grow denser.
Rivers of wings surround us and vast tribulation.
This poem is actually perhaps a little more of a piece than others: the first and the last sentences are like reader-friendly bookends, sense-surrounding the stuff in the middle. But in the middle you do see the way Ashbery's syntax and phrasing keeps moving around like mercury on a pie plate: "And all the little helps/My initials in the sky/The hay of an arctic summer night?" Whatever "sense" can be made of that must be intuited.
Given a continuum of sorts between conservative predictable rule-bound informational or narrative writing on the one hand and completely nonsensical experimental gibberish on the other, there are lots of waystations along the road. Ashbery is further over to the right than say, Emily Dickinson, who in turn is somewhat wilder than, say, Robert Frost. Kirsty Bowen's "havoc" is maybe just to right of center: fairly comprehensible at the macro level but interestingly experimental at the micro level: there's a kind of wildness within the sentences: the wingless blackbirds, "the mailbox sticky with wasps," "the morse code in my molars."
What I wound up writing in my little five-finger exercise was something maybe in between Bowen and Ashbery: not so much verbally turbulent as logically and sequentially disjunctive. And that's by design, not so much as a conscious result of active advance planning, but by the way in which the words were pushed forward from my mind onto the page: I was writing by feel. The logic is subliminal and intuitive rather than consciously selected, although I was looking back and forth, as I was writing, at "havoc" and trying to catch something in the mirror. I don't claim much for it, at least not yet; I was just interested in seeing where I might wind up if I started playing that particular game.