Friday, December 22, 2023

Valerie Witte, A Rupture in the Interiors


[ 2.2 ]

We are bodies of evidence | a cadaver’s skin found frozen
in a glacier | To recover from shedding she discovered
a wall of pungent herbs | impressions
made in minerals disturbed | where winters pass dormant, the physical
record is sparse | A root ground to powder: why were things so difficult
to swallow | eaten by warblers or washed away | rain, then two opposing
clines conceal armor | external, evolution
of feathers | Fleeceflower, the blood cleaned cold | and the female
bigger still, without a mouth does not feed | but draws | for draping
fabrics, belts | repel a moth
mugwort, babies by rocking | a cigar waved carefully
as if rolling could alleviate | Absence extinguished before
contact but once it was dropped | And singed her |

I’m struck by the lineation and threads of Portland, Oregon poet and writer Valerie Witte’s latest full-length poetry title, A Rupture in the Interiors (Portland OR: Airlie Press, 2023), following a variety of her poetry and hybrid titles including a game of correspondence (Black Radish, 2015), The Grass Is Greener When the Sun Is Yellow (with Sarah Rosenthal; Operating System, 2019) and the chapbook Listening Through the Body (above/ground press, 2021), not to mention her forthcoming collection of experimental essays, One Thing Follows Another: Experiments in Dance, Art, and Life Through the Lens of Simone Forti and Yvonne Rainer (punctum books, 2024). A Rupture in the Interiors is structured through nine numbered sections—“1. IN THE COILS,” “2. FURS FOR THE FIELDS,” “3. AND THE MANY SHAPES OF CLAWS,” “4. AN INFERIOR BLUE AND FAST,” “5. IN UNPROTECTED WATERS,” “6. WHERE FEW LINGER,” “7. A FAITHFULLY RENDERED MARK,” “8. TO BE RENT AT THE SEAMS” and “9. AND IF WE DISAPPEARED PERMANENTLY”—with individual poems numbered within (the above poem, “[ 2.2 ],” for example, being the second poem in the second section), offering the assemblage as a single, ongoing book-length poem-thread. Witte’s lyric is knitted, stitched; a lyric that plays not simply with threading as imagery and content but as structure, and her threads are myriad, almost polyphonic and multi-directional, writing on perception and the body, and the very idea of what holds, however precarious it might sometimes seem, everything together. “When we are transformed clawless | out of water,” she writes, to open the poem “[ 6.4 ],” “| Also / red | garments are tents of deprivation by means of leaves / or lungs: ventilation | lost | Any organ unusable at times, decayed / could resemble | bellows [.]” Each individual poem propulsive, a kind of self-contained pulse across the larger and much broader, quilted, design. Or, as she offers in her “AFTERWORD”:

One night years ago, I dreamt I wrote a book called Silkyard.

I didn’t know then what the word meant—an orchard of mulberry trees; a length of fabric, measured; an open space where one might wander or forage, that could be transposed onto the written page. A story of transformation, metamorphosis. Various threads like these brought together to form a tapestry of sorts—their own rendering of a random night’s dreamscape.

With this series of images and interpretations in mind, and the compulsion to follow the directive delivered to my dream-self, I began to write this book. I interwove the language from texts exploring the history of silk and the anthropology of human skin with my own experiences, in particular the minor physical traumas related to skin and hair, seemingly superficial flaws that nonetheless, over a lifetime, take not only a physical but also an emotional toll.

The result was Silkyard [until the time of spinning], which became A Rupture in the Interiors, a text that traces the path of an individual through the course of a personal journey while also tracking that of the human species as a whole.

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