Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Pattie McCarthy, L & O

honest work—that makes me feel verbatim.
the widow says : sorrow is my own yard. I don’t
have to look it up. it is one of the poems
I’ve accidentally memorized & when
he was in the hospital I could recite it to him.

honest work—the same
bones, only
compressed. apologies
for the delay, someone left
a package on the train. the army
experience center at Franklin
Mills Mall includes three mission
simulators, a café & lounge. all your
recyclables in one bin! ring in
the frost upon them freedom
from fire. in fact, people are not
particularly kind to pregnant women. I have never
In a review of Patti McCarthy’s [see her 12 or 20 questions here] first trade collection, bk of (h)rs (Berkeley CA: Apogee Press, 2002), in Rain Taxi, American poet andcritic Catherine Daly writes:
McCarthyjoins a post-confessional focus on information of various sorts ascontent in poetry with the still-increasing awareness thatnon-canonical texts from the middle ages, renaissance, and “earlymodern” baroque period were written, spoken, or used by women. Shecalls attention to survivals in the language which indicate survivalsin the way we perceive our days and read old texts. She firstimmerses us in language, and a particular language of time andspecial case, creating a sense of intimacy and identification ratherthan identity. “[T]he clerestory as choice & not-choice” in“matins” is also a window in a cloister. A woman becomes “anyonewho grew up behind / the wreckage of a pastoral screen door” in thefollowing poem, “lauds.” The word “door” changes the screenof a harem window, a Japanese Imperial Court, or a monastery into acontemporary screen for keeping the outside out and the inside in,the screen on the doorway of the sublime. Then she matches andmismatches her present situations, what she knows from experience,with images from the past, what she knows from reading and studyinglanguage. She is both writer and reader: her subject matter is bothpublic and private. Finally, McCarthy establishes what she thinksabout the women she reads and writes about, “glances and hair down,their bodies produce no sound.” Their images, languages, andwritings speak through McCarthy’s prophecy of survival.
After three trade poetry collections—bkof (h)rs (2002), Verso (2004) and Table Alphabetical of Hard Words (2010)—allfrom Berkeley, California publisher Apogee Press, comes Pennsylvania poet Pattie McCarthy’s chapbook L& O (little red leaves e-editions, 2011). Constructed out of the sequences “liminal :” and “oyer :,” she explains the impetus for the first piece in her “notes & acknowledgments”:
This poem was brought to you by the Kelly Writers House, University of Pennsylvania. Written for the event “William Carlos Williams andthe Women: the Legacy of WCW at 125,” on 11 November 2008 [you can catch streaming of such here]. With many thanks to Jessica Lowenthal, organizer & host, & to my fellow participants : Sarah Dowling, Jena Osman, & Michelle Taransky. Includes much quotation & thievery from many poems by WCW (e/g/ everything after the second masses of flowers is quotation).
October – November 2008.
Possibly written during or perhaps after the composition of her third trade collection, L & O forgoes McCarthy’s explorations of Old English for another type of language, and, as the first sequence lifts and resequences lines and phrases from William Carlos Williams, the second, “oyer,” hosts a list of that stretches more than two pages, from Eleni Sikelianos, Anselm Berrigan, Jen Hofer and Cathy Wagner to Lorine Niedecker, Fanny Howe, William Blake and Samuel Beckett. In her published work to date, McCarthy has managed to collage filtered and found language into acrobatic and emotional shapes, working though a passionate embrace of language writing, reminiscent of the work of Toronto poetMargaret Christakos, or even New York City poets Rachel Zucker and Arielle Greenberg. The poem-sequence “liminal :” catches a number of references, skipping stones across heady surfaces, wrapping one narrative sequence through the immediate of the author/narrator, from “it was so much empty / air to fill with ocean.” to:
& toddlers arrive & I
should have stayed
home with my own
kid & had free
coffee & graded

all the usual margins.

honest work—a busy kind of diction
limning out a greenglass
insulator make these calculations
more complicated. ring in the new
baby […] open well its eyes
love & wrestling
were brothers on the Mayflower
& (one assumes) thereafter.
katie & timothy
mccarthy were not
(presumably) siblings on the Titanic.
The second sequence opens: “everything begins with A,” focusing deeper on pregnancy, and the immediately domestic, even as both sequences wrap themselves around pregnancy, the body, mothering, birth and children.
make it hard for me & I’ll make it
impenetrable for you. crafting
a code & its key simultaneously,
though a cipher is preferable
(the former is cumbersome & unflexible).
swags of pine, the day’s familiar. you need
language where you sit. the room where
our house is slowly (& with much old-world
gentility) falling apart. he coats
his fingers in antebellum plaster
dust—the damp creeps (as they say) & his fingers
plug the faucet. isn’t there anything
beautiful in decay anymore? you squirm.
I felt [your] bare foot from the inside.
There is something of the fragmented journal to both of these sequences, a form that McCarthy revels in, writing individual entries made in the spaces between the chaos of writing, teaching and children. As any writer with small children knows, there is the constant difficulty in finding time, in balancing writing and parenting (there is a reference to being on maternity leave in the second sequence, for example), yet its an effect that still seems to be felt more (and written about more) by women writers than their male counterparts. Where, I wonder, are the maternity/paternity leave poems by male writers?
at the boy’s birth in whom the iron shall cease—
apologies, I ignored you to write
a poem about you.

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