Invited to Cole’s house for a poetry reading. Claimed a beer—I came empty-handed; moved a table, spoke with Rose Marie Waldrop about her translation of LINGOS I – IX (Ulf Stolterfoht, 2008; Burning Deck, 2008)—how do you translate a totally non-narrative work? You work with the author, she said. Spoke with Darcie Dennigan. Read her Madame X (Canarium, 2012) in August; this, from the poem “In the Bakery”: ‘They sell Kaiser rolls and sliced Sicilian and then they leave and / put on a fancy tanktop and go out for the evening. // They go even though— // The little white clematis cling to the fences.” Dennigan’s poems are full of weird logic, dumb (read: fun) jokes, and anxiety: ‘I wish we could shut ourselves up in a closet together.’ That night at Cole’s, we listened to Omar Berrada, Emma Ramadan, and Sarah Riggs. They read their own work along with translations of Ahmed Bouanani and versions of Rabin al Adawiyya.
Sarah Riggs was concerned about the new work she read, and invited comments from the audience. I couldn’t stay long after the reading, but I made a point of talking with her about her project. I only dimly recall our conversation—have a witchy sense of it, but, interest piqued—sarahriggs.org, en français et en anglais, points to a few poems from the forthcoming book, Pomme & Granite. Specifically three poems, “from Underground Sonnets.”
First of the three is “Will S.” Will S. = Shakespeare, but also ‘wills’—our will, legal documents, what we leave behind of ourselves (‘the second-best bed’). I hear, also, ‘will us’: what compels.
“Will S.” asks the form (sonnet) what to say: ‘Tell us, lines, what we should say.’ Or maybe, asks the page (lined paper)—the poet comes to the vessel blank, and asks it for content. Or do ‘lines’ = ‘muse’? Which would make ‘Tell us, lines, what we should say’ an invocation, kin to ‘Muse, let the memories spill through me.’ Four lines in, the poet demands, ‘The house must come clean—is ‘house’ the sonnet?
There’s a turn—I don’t know if it’s the volta, it comes a little early for that—where the poet introduces us to a ‘She’ with ‘She sounds with garbled fields.’ A terrific line, isn’t it? To sound as in to find, and to sound as in to cry out. To find with ‘garbled’—distorted—’fields’ or to cry out with ‘garbled field’ recalls Olsen’s composition by field, but again, distorted. ‘She’ is not with the poem for long; by the tenth line, we’re back to the lines—’we rein with these lines’—and then the poem asks, ‘who is it for?’ The answer is cut short.
In September I read Vanessa Place’s novel La Medusa. Much to like. It looks neat. Several narratives run together: of a pragmatic black woman, whose daughter Feena intuits the secret that her grandmother is a mambo or maybe even a bokor; of a neurosurgeon who fantasizes he might raise the dead; of Miles P., the albino truck driver in love with his wife, Stella, who in turn is in love with a woman named Rocki. I’ve not touched on Medusa, the multiple retellings of that myth. I found Place’s Notes on Conceptualisms tedious, but I’ve enjoyed reading interviews with her and articles about her. There’s a piece I recommend by Kim Calder called “The Denunciation of Vanessa Place” that addresses the claim that Place is a racist, or at least that her work is racist. ‘As Place has said,’ Calder mentions, ‘the law always uses the word as proof of guilt.’