Friday, April 16, 2010

Emily Carr, Directions for Flying

Published as the first winner of the First Furniture Press Poetry Prize is Calgary author Emily Carr’s Directions for Flying, 36 fits: a young wife’s almanac (Baltimore MD: Furniture Press, 2010). Carr has been appearing in more than a few places lately, including a chapbook with above/ground press in 2009, and another 2010 trade collection as prize-winner, her 13 ways of happily: books 1 & 2 that Cole Swensen chose as the winner of the New Measures Poetry Prize in 2009, now forthcoming later this year with Parlor Press. In her two-page “postscript,” included along with the press release, she begins by writing:
The first thing you should know is that between finishing this manuscript (which she privately refers to as “sprawl”) and writing these notes, Emily Carr turned 29, 30, 31… So I can only speculate on the person who wrote these poems. She was 28 when she started writing them, 29 when she finished. She moved from the Midwest (her childhood home) to North Carolina, fallen in love, had an abortion, eloped, made a suicide gesture involving Zoloft & sherry, and moved to Canada. She became, for the first time, a seasonal creature. She had forgotten winter and, in the fog of her despair, moved straight into the thick of it, to a sunny, austere, cold province on the right hand of the Canadian Rockies.

Trying to stay in love. OK. That’s the plot. Three years later, She’d elaborate: trying to stay in love by contaminating the literary with the human. And vice versa. The human with the literary. She believes that reality is a theory for literature, and literature is a theory for reality. She doesn’t want to be framed. She wants to build her own frame. She’s read Lucky and Jane and she’s watched reality television and talk shows and in sixth grade for Sunday School she read the Bible cover to cover and now that she’s married she’s read legal tracts and A Short History of Nearly Everything and Raymond Carver and she’s seen at least three therapists and cashed in prescriptions for but not actually taken at least three antidepressants. She can’t commit herself to any of these frames. She carries inside her a history of reading and misreading.
Carved into months, running April to March, three poems per month, the pieces that make up her Directions for Flying, 36 fits: a young wife’s almanac are cut so sharp they make the fingers bleed while reading, and the blood on the pages include that of the author. Phyllis Webb told us that the best response to a poem is another poem, and Carr’s poems go further, that the best response to anything might be a poem, writing her “36 fits” that respond to not only the heart, but a canon of contemporary poets and poetry, a very worthy reading list that includes Barbara Guest, Lyn Hejinian, C.D. Wright, Juliana Spahr, Kathleen Fraser, Virginia Woolf, Forrest Gander, Lisa Robertson and Anne Carson.

fog (n.)
after Mark Cox

this garbled constellation
of melody & speech rings & rings
in the empty kitchen, agitating

to say things, to address

every gash. opens like a locket
brandishing pictures. for years
I have held it out to others, a stethoscope

please. please, stop

listening. it may well be coyotes’
shameless weeping, the horrible
clucking of a chicken in a burlap sack

the terrible keening of a life

trying to reenter
that young body by leaping over
the sun-splattered sill

It’s as though Carr writes the silences amid and between things through these poems, these months, coda’d by a “working note: or, / the dream of an audience” in a long, singular column that ends with:
locating the pronoun at its moment of alteration
which is/ in other words, a love story, the whole
thing/ just trying to be/ in love. that’s the plot.
If there is a plot here, Carr certainly wants you to see one thing, whether or not it’s the true lot, or one the narrator is forcing over. And what is the function of this two-page “postscript,” slipped in with the press release? Is it meant to be read inside the scope of the final published work, or as something further, seemingly extended or even adrift from the text?

Through Carr, this is a language poetry of the heart, and one rips and tears through the other with such flailing precision that emotion pours, and each word falls perfectly in place.

piano (n.)
after Nicole Brossard

therapy? a piece of furniture,
beautifully shaped.

has soft & hard
parts like a body. under, in:

a great storage space.
an aquarium. the sudden realization

of being
just better sandwiched.

childhood & lens/ nothing
without a bench/ might have been

caressing a prior a stroke
against a stem spluttering

on the far end of
lever: obbligato, acceleration,

fermata, counterpoint,
encore. iffy octaves worry fingers

split something had to
dissimulate it may as well

have been I

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