Infinitesimal

The lonely tree, Sweeden - Nan Goldin
via Artnet
The sky on the twilight of Philippine's death, Winterthur - Nan Goldin
via Matthew Marks Gallery
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There’s a scene in Six Feet Under (S.4 E.1) in which Claire Fisher, while attending CalArts I think, has been tasked with “breaking” her eye open in order to see the world in a new way, a way without “all the tired associations we’ve made all our sad lives.” And so, for inspiration, she sits hour after hour in her bedroom staring at photographs by Nan Goldin. Some episodes later she ends up breaking her eye open (with the aid of an idea stolen from a friend) and produces a series of incredibly striking photo-collage masks which the subject of the collage then wears for a portrait.

The real world artist who created these pieces is David Meanix, and he was featured in a Salon.com article in 2004. Here are some examples of his work from the television show:

Ruth Fisher, via HBO
David Fisher, via Salon.com

Nate Fisher, via PacEvoluTion

Something about my new work’s been nagging me the last couple weeks while I wait for Praise Nothing news. And last week, I identified the source. While I feel a sense of relief and freedom as I work on the new poems, and while I've begun thinking about them in terms of a manuscript, I’ve noticed that, at times, I'm trying to force the new poems into the old mold, the old manuscript, instead of following my instincts and listening fully with my own idiosyncratic ear, indulging my interests and new obsessions. It’s got me questioning if, like Claire Fisher, I need to break open my eye ear.

Some months back, one of my best friends told me over the phone that he found my poems to be like “sets of delicate china stacked on top of each other,” “balanced, but cold,” “attractive to look at, but not functional [because] if one were to remove a cup or a saucer, the whole damn thing would crash to the floor and shatter.” While I disagreed with some of his characterization and its implications, I appreciated his insight because his feedback was not without some truth. What did some folks in the MFA days call my poems (and my personality)? Oh yeah: aloof.

I want these new poems to be gut punches. And I want to unleash my ear and internal metronome from the formalist structures and strictures I’ve put on myself for the last many years while writing the bulk of the poems that went into Praise Nothing. This is not to talk smack on the manuscript by any means. Just to say I’ve wanted something different lately.

The only feedback I've received so far regarding these new "broken open" poems is one friend said, "And by the way, the poem you sent me--my head definitely exploded." Now, I'm pretty sure he didn't mean that in a good way, and that's completely fine. One craves honesty and directness at these times. But I am glad to know that the new poems do in fact detonate on arrival, so they're not complete duds.

Certainly, there will still be structure and an architecture. I’m going to continue to explore my lineation systems, but within a more formal strophic structure based on measure rather than rhyme. I want to push their limits. I want to let the phrasing, syntax, and grammar have even greater roles in controlling the line, and rely less on accentual measures. In the end, I want to see what it’s like out more toward the middle of the Ferlinghetti’s tightrope without abandoning my lessons learned from Father Wright:
via Modern American Poetry
  • That there are new options out there. For Father Wright, it was “a long image-freighted line (the odd marriage of Emily and Walt) that can carry information (and ‘sincerity’) and a lyric intensity at the same time. Not only will it sing, but it will tell time too.”
  • That one must always think in line rather than line break.
  • I must continue to have an ear-based system of lineation that acts as a “built-in check” against slack free verse, but I want to also strive for lines that are “tactile and unrepentant.”
  • My lineation mantra: “Each line should be a station of the cross.”
  • “Form is finite. Structure is infinite.”
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I chose to lead off this entry with two of Nan Goldin's landscapes rather than her portraits because I've always been drawn more to landscape and still life. Since I'm not a photographer, I find that the latter relates much more directly to poetry and how I approach language anyway.

The first Father Wright poem that came to mind this morning when I started thinking about this is one from A Short History of the Shadow. Mostly it's the first part that dovetails with this entry, though the rest of it develops the ideas a whole lot more. Here's an excerpt of the poem and audio, and I urge you to click over to Poets.org where you can read the full poem and hear the full audio.

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from Body & Soul II

The structure of landscape is infinitesimal,
Like the structure of music,
                                         seamless, invisible.
Even the rain has larger sutures.
What holds the landscape together, and what holds music together,
Is faith, it appears--faith of the eye, faith of the ear.
Nothing like that in language,
However, clouds chugging from west to east like blossoms
Blown by the wind.
                             April, and anything's possible.


Charles Wright
from A Short History of the Shadow












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A selection of other Charles Wright poems posted at Little Epic Against Oblivion:

"Looking Around" 
"The Monastery at Vršac"
"Roma I"
"Jesuit Graves"
"A Short History of My Life"
"In Praise of Thomas Hardy"
"Mantova"
"Blackwater Mountain"