“Writing is always and forever a social practice.” Montreal poet and critic Erín Moure writes, to open one of the essays in my beloved wager: Essays from a Writing Practice (2009). “The varying discourses in a society either shore it up or challenge it. And discourse isn’t something we can walk away from when we set down our pen.” I’ve been rereading Moure as a particular kind of salve against the squirrellyness of lockdown, nearly a month in. It swells inside me like a balloon. Her work strikes for the intermesh of the content of her work, as well as the music of her language, and I’ve been moving back and forth between the signed copy I have on my shelf, and the signed copy Christine has. When two writers merge their libraries, what might you have expected might happen? We had boxes worth of doubles, deciding only to remove unsigned duplicates as extraneous.
Someone points out that today, April 13, 2020, is actually the birthday of Samuel Beckett, born this day in Dublin in 1906. “Why this farce, day after day?”
We might be Easter Monday, but the day Beckett was born was Good Friday. At least one difference between the days. And what are days, anymore?
And in three days, our Aoife, my third and youngest child, turns four years old. Another birthday on lockdown. Christine suggests that hers, in June, will be our third consecutive household birthday in lockdown. Might we be open by November, for Rose? We really have no idea. How does one write in a pandemic? Over the weekend caregiving my father, I compose another twenty letters to a variety of friends. I hope to get them out by the end of the week. In today’s mail, a copy of Lisa Fishman’s latest poetry collection, Mad World, Mad Kings, Mad Composition (2020). At least we’ve still the mail, declared an “essential service,” although one never knows how long that might last. A couple of weeks back, Fishman responded to an email I sent her that she was in a “rented R.V. having driven 2,000 miles one-way to rescue my mother with a lung/respiratory condition to get her from Arizona to Michigan.” Wherever she is now, I hope they’re both safe. As the first lines of her new collection offer:
Truth-telling is possible, thought Laura Riding, so the poem does not need to happen. That is, poetry should not exist. Rather, language should speak truth in all ways. Not in a separate realm, a special form, called poetry. Poetry existing as a separate category prevents language from speaking truth outside of poetry. Her decision therefore: No more poems. Write a dictionary. Where is this dictionary? Florida?
Responding to my follow-up email from earlier today, Fishman does inform me that everyone in her space is safe, and on lockdown, with her mother and her mother’s husband safely into Michigan, although “straight into the virus ‘hotspot’ of metro-Detroit.” Through the distances, all our conversations are immediately shaped over safety, health. How are you, really? The nature of pandemic forcing a shift in how we approach each other, even through the most casual of interactions. Everything, as I’ve said, becomes heightened. Further in Moure’s essay, “Breaking Boundaries: Writing as Social Practice, or Attentiveness”:
Discourse, then, has to be questioned, turned over, or it shores up what is, for me, an oppression and silencing of others. It shores up my own silencing! It is a tacit agreement with the status quo. Every word we write can do this, fall into this tendency, or it can be attentive and can subvert it, reveal its seams, push it sideways. This oppressive tendency, remember, is not solely an outside pressure imposed upon us by the world of ideology and consent: it’s inside. We carry it within us. You can’t easily see a structure from inside. Yet focusing on the language can help us find its boundaries, rub up against them, and see what changes, what enters.