Monday, April 06, 2020

Genevieve Kaplan, (aviary)

The pattern of their beating wings

the instinct is to hurry as the light fades
which is the pattern of their bearing
the pattern (the arc) left behind by its beating
its proud head. it watches and it’s shunned (it leaps
but can’t fly) (footsteps and they all flew). one poses
on each branch, one keeps
its feet

Southern California poet Genevieve Kaplan’s latest is the full-length poetry collection (aviary) (El Paso TX: Veliz Books, 2020), following her full-length debut, In the ice house (Red Hen Press, 2011), as well as the chapbooks In an aviary (Grey Book Press, 2016), travelogue (Dancing Girl, 2016), and settings for these scenes (Convulsive Editions, 2013). Composed amid parenthesis, Kaplan’s (aviary) writes in and around the margins of containment, from imprisonment to safekeeping, wrapped around a consideration of both birds and women as requiring protection, unable to do more than preen, pose and sing. All of this, of course, takes on new and further meanings, given the current state of affairs via the global Covid-19 pandemic. “it is the undeveloped (dead) / the lost there,” she writes, as part of “I’m the moment it begins,” continuing: “the desire / against the fence, beneath / the tree. we were all struggling / we were looking for something / together. an evening, a holding /a tree top, a vantage point / (to better understand the workings / of the system).” Kaplan writes on birds and the garden, writing out both in great detail, constructed from a process of rebuilding upon the work of American poet Mina Loy (1882-1966), as she writes in the endnote to her collection, “PROCESS NOTE”:

Early on in my process of conceptualizing these poems, Mina Loy’s short prose poem “Ladies in an Aviary” leapt onto my desk to suggest itself as an organizing principle, a happy coincidence, a difficult imagination, a devastating image. Loy’s description of women whose “breasts are pouting” (line 1), posing as prize birds inside a cage, watched by onlookers, and waiting for men to select and adorn them, as “love…’tis a woman’s whole existence” (line 12), resonated with the themes of enclosure and identification with the natural world already echoing through my work. As gardens and natural enclosures—the location of the poems in my series—are often considered feminine or feminized spaces, I appreciated that Loy’s poem, with its “sugar of fictitious values” (line 5) and its “nasty sweep of feathers” (line 16), added both recognition and scathing assessment of such a space.

I found Loy’s prose poem compelling, engaging, and strange. In Loy’s words I also discovered possibilities for extending my own language. I use two main methods to incorporate language from her “Ladies in an Aviary.” The first is akin to collage: erasing, alphabetizing, re-arranging, and otherwise permutating Loy’s language to create new poems. My poem “(ladies in an aviary)” is composed by alphabetizing all the words in Loy’s “Ladies…,” making four columns of the alphabetized language, and creating a new poem by reading across those columns. A latter poem, “(vary),” uses a similar permutation, working through Loy’s language alphabetically—and selectively—beginning with “aviary” and ending with “sugar.” These processes highlight elements of Loy’s composition, like the repeated use of the word “sugar,” or the distinctiveness of certain letters and sounds. When Loy’s “man who / brings sugar to the cage” (lines 3-4) becomes my “man, man, massive” (line 17), the man takes on figurative weight, becomes imposing, and in juxtaposition with the previous line “love, lovely, lump” (16), sexual. In other Loy-languaged poems in this series I continue using methods of repetition and variation, curated omission, and visual erasure procedures.

(aviary) is a suite of poems constructed in bursts and fragment, recombination and allusion, and the shape of her book-length suite is reminiscent of how American poet Deborah Poe has also shaped some of her own poetry collections: from the allusive, the fragment and the lyric burst, stretching across a sequence of lines that reach out, turn, continue. As she writes to end the poem “Of the tree in the path”: “the last gasp of the trail / the path, the number of women here, that you / couldn’t help but know. act, drag, the casting / of the wind (too delicate, dear) to rustle much / of such a tree [.]”

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