Friday, September 23, 2011

Juliana Spahr, Well then there now

Things should be said more largely than the personal way.
Things are larger than the personal way of telling.
Intimate confession is a project.
Confession's structured plan of percents and regulations.

When the amounts of blood are considered.
When the strength, the quantities, of blood are regarded.
When blood is thought as meaning.
An intimate confession.

Blood is a force, a house.
And the difference between those that took and those that remained.
As the qualities of blood are considered remains undocumentable.
As the qualities of blood are considered remains unquantifiable.

For we are located with some and not with others for this is intimate.
We are situated with some and not with one against confession. (“Sonnets”)
One of the finest poetry collections I've read in some time, Juliana Spahr's Well then there now (Jaffrey NH: David R. Godine / A Black Sparrow Book, 2011) is listed as “her fourth book of poetry.” With numerous small and smaller publications over the years, this might be her fourth trade collection, but I won't argue over such details. The very attractive Well then there now is a collection of eight poem/sections, a number of which have appeared in journals or as separate publications: “Some of We and the Land / That Was Never Ours,” “Sonnets,” “Dole Street,” “Things of Each Possible Relation / Hashing Against One Another,” “Unnamed Dragonfly Species,” “2199 Kalia Road,” “Gentle Now, Don't Add to Heartache” and “The Incinerator.”

Throughout her works, most notably Fuck You-Aloha-I Love You (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2001), there exists an argument about Hawai'i and the considerations of public/private spaces, as does this new work, composed in part during her years spent teaching at the University of Hawaii at Manoa (1997-2003) before returning to the mainland to teach at Oakland, California's Mills College. On the other hand, there is also the appearance of Spahr's constant motion, the rhythmic chanting, an accumulative poetic seen previously, and most obviously, in both Fuck You-Aloha-I Love You and her breathtaking 9-11 collection, This Connection of Everyone With Lungs (University of California Press, 2005). Spahr's poetry collections are very much conceived as extended, single projects, running from Response (Sun & Moon Press, 1996; reissued as a free pdf by ubu editions/) to Fuck You-Aloha-I Love You to This Connection of Everyone With Lungs. Part of the appeal of this new collection is the length and the breadth of it, perhaps the largest and most all-encompassing of her collections to date, bringing in elements of all that she has previously published. Each of her eight poem/sections work their way to a singular whole, questioning the way we live, questioning the way we consider land ownership and the shortsighted descruction of the environment, and questioning the way communication can clarify as well as confuse.

I tried to think some about public and private in this essay. But I could come up with nothing profound to say about it. It is obvious that private interests are always encroaching on public ones and that tourism just makes this worse. Then tourism combined with colonialism is a lethal stew.

Public Access Shoreline Hawai'i vs. Hawai'i County Planning Commission, 1995 WL 515898 protects indiginous Hawaiians' traditional and customary rights of access to gether plants, harvest trees, and take game. In this decision the court said about the balance between the rights of private landowners and the rights of persons exercising traditional Hawaiian culture that “the western concept of exclusivity is not universally applicable in Hawai'i.”

These rights, however, are constantly eroded by property owners who restrict physical access by fencing in areas, closing roads, diverting water, not providing parking spaces, etc. A 1997 attempt by state legislators to regulate the law provoked large protests and was not passed. This was a victory.

But there is nothing really left to gather in Waikīkī. It is rare to see an endemic or indiginous plant. There are very few fish near its shores. (“2199 Kalia Road”)
Another appeal of the collection is in not only how Spahr relates geography but acknowledges it as well, with a map preceding each section, and acknowledgments at the end that include a list of composition sites, including “'Sonnets' was written at 3029 Lowrey Avenue, Honolulu, Hawai'i 96822.” or “'Gentle Now, Don't Add to Heartache' was written at 5000 MacArthur Boulevard, Oakland, California 94613. It was originally published in Tarpaulin Sky. While this poem was written in Oakland, California, it is about Chillicothe, Ohio.” I've never seen anyone write out such a geographic/genealogical list, but part of her awareness of geography in the poems is reminiscent slightly of the Alberta geographies current Ottawa poet Monty Reid played with in his collection The Alternate Guide (Red Deer, AB: Red Deer College Press,1995).
the requirements of this meeting
that this is someplace differently
the input of information
the coolness of things in constant movement
and the green of the track
from this calmness is the breath and the ventilation
the sea is modified and urges considerations
and then the conditions in the cause of meeting
the input of information that this is someplace differently
then the coolness and the things in constant motion
to this calmness there is the breath and the green of the land
the sea expands and is modified by considerations (“Things of Each Possible Relation Hashing Against One Another”)

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