Thursday, May 05, 2011

Norma Cole, To Be At Music: Essays & Talks

The state had come to us fragmentary. Our writing was unavoidable. (“of theory / of possibility”)

Nearly as follow-up or companion to her Where Shadows Will: Selected Poems 1988-2008 (San Francisco CA: City Lights, 2009) [see my review of such here] comes San Francisco poet Norma Cole’s To Be At Music: Essays & Talks (Richmond CA: Omnidawn Publishing, 2010). This is a collection of pieces composed in less formal than creative essays very much as a writer responding to other (mostly) writing, almost in step with Edmonton publisher NeWest Press’ own Writer-as-Critic ongoing series, producing similar works by Canadian writers Daphne Marlatt, Fred Wah, Erin Mouré and Stan Dragland. This collection of twenty-one pieces, some going back almost twenty years, track a series of conversations that Cole has been having throughout her reading and her writing, as a poet responding to writing, including works by Tom Raworth, Lorine Niedecker, Robin Blaser, George Oppen, Mina Loy and Marjorie Welish as well as the paintings of Stanley Whitney (who also provided the cover image).

Robin Blaser’s “The Fire” is dedicated “especially to Ebbe Borregard,” and was written for an occasion, “for a few in San Francisco, where I read it last March 8th.” We may read it in The Poetics of the New American Poetry, eds. Donald Allen & Warren Tallman, Grove Press, 1973; or in Caterpillar 12, July 1970, ed. Clayton Eshleman, a special issue devoted to Robin Blaser and Jack Spicer, indicating a prior “last March 8th”; or possibly in Pacific Nation #2, 1967, referring to an even earlier March 8th.

The Fire” begins with the introduction of the indivisibility of the crucial. It goes on to privilege image as representation of this invisible crucial, to value language above concept or idea, and to propose the possibility or desirability of “holding” or “catching” this invisibility in a line “by sound and heat,” ultimate ultrasound, shaping… what is at stake here, flowers of salt all around. The eidetic diegesis: “I’m haunted by a sense of the invisibility of everything that comes into me (aware that nothing is more invisible than emotion—by emotion, I mean the heat of one’s sense of the war, or a place, or a body, or the extensions of these, the earth, the existence of gods, and so forth—the I-have-seen-what-I-have-seen, recorded by Pound in Canto II).” (Blaser, “The Fire”) Seen. Recorded. Desired. In what order? (“A MINIMUM OF MATTER”)

What comes through so many of these pieces is Cole’s ear, the musicality of her eye and her lines, the cadence of her speech while exploring her personal field of American/west coast poetics, and allowing an increased clarity into her own fruits, furrows and forms, furthering a comprehension of her own ongoing practice. There is something about the form of the essay that any writer should explore. Arguably anyone who produces and publishes ongoing literary works should have their own collection of essays, talks and/or interviews (Erin Mouré’s collection was a particular delight). Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could see the same from such as, for example, Kathleen Fraser, Barry McKinnon, Juliana Spahr, Phil Hall, Rachel Zucker, Rachel Zolf, Noah Eli Gordon, Elizabeth Hay or Margaret Christakos?

To list possibilities and dismiss them is a way of elaborating or describing a “negative poetics,” the invisible woman walks through the rain, everything seen through her, through rain and through her. would you be so kind as to look at my eyes, as to look at the points of view behind false opposites. (At this point, I could have made an other different shape, but did not realize it.) A form of greeting sent out from a century. From captivity. From exile. Raise your glass in wordless toast. Ashbery, from “The System”: “The facts of history…the oral kind that goes on in you…” Invention or lamentation, “separation is the first fact,” from My Bird Book. From Michael Palmer’s Sun, “you are in // me as history I fix / and crystal to it.” Ashbery, “The System”: “…the progress toward infinity had crystallized in them…” In all specificity, are words the image of thought? asked the gizmologist. Blast and dazzle.

Robert Walser, “There’s something missing when I don’t hear music, and when I do, then there’s really something missing.” (“Start Singing”)

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