Monday, October 29, 2012

"Open outside!"

-for Morag

We'd agreed we'd do a mail exchange, a sort of "object writing;" we'd each send to the other an assemblage of objects designed to tell a story.   "Like messages in a bottle that are released into the ocean, [object writing reveals itself] to someone who is willing to unpack the sealed contents," read instructions we'd picked up from Anne West's book, Mapping the Intelligence of Artistic Work.

It had been raining for days the week I bundled my package off to Winnipeg, and so I didn't go outdoors, as I'd wished, to pick up leaves or twigs or stones or rosehips, or the fragment of a paper wasp's nest clinging to a bush that I'd wanted to send to my friend Morag. Instead, I cannibalized my office desk, the stickers and pictures and items I'd gathered there, along with a few printer's tools. I felt lost, divided, frustrated, separated from the air and earth and world, overwhelmed by duties and words. I imagined Morag would understand, if anyone would, how unhoused I felt, how astray.

As indeed she did.

A couple of weeks later, at my place at the table, when I arrived home, was a small bubble-wrapped package. OPEN OUTSIDE it said.  And so I did, although it was dark, and the stars too far off to see by.

After walking about a bit, I came back indoors with the dog to see what I could see, the scent of sea and wind and grilling sausages clinging to us.

Inside the package was another one, a clear plastic bag stuffed full of things. Crumbles of black earth fell out as I removed several items: a small cotton sack, a fragment of a poem, and a packet of items bundled together and tied with a knot.

I undid the knot and pulled out a pen, a seed pod, a bundle of roots, bits of earth, a small weaving that featured a few stitches at one end, a rough canvas swatch containing four needles, a strip of brown paper, a swatch of olive green fabric, a crumpled leaf, an unmarked label.  The writing was there, but what did it say? What would I say? I was stumped for a time.

The next morning I sat and read the fragment of poem--
(Oh people of the word, you always think words will save you.)

I was looking for a clue. What may I make of these disparate things? How do they speak? What did they mean?  I reread the words:

My heart is moved by all I cannot save
so much has been destroyed

I have cast my lot with those
who, age after age persevere,

with no extraordinary power
to reconstitute the world.
--Adrienne Rich

The message was clear, and yet for a long time I could not hear it. Could not understand it. Could not find my fate in these bits of earth or swatches of cloth, of needles and thread. Could not figure out what I was to do, ought to do, with this small collection of things.

Still, the packet haunted me and altered my imagination. Once it arrived I began to see differently, to mark form and shape and knot and handwork. Now and then, words failed me, but that wasn't a disaster. What I was after was a shape in the light, another kind of composition, a way of rendering aside from, instead of in words. 

Weeks passed.
I drew out the packet again. This time its message seemed transparent, lucid, manifest: 

Here am I. Take me, make something; make me; look at your hands.
What will you do now?

Hope angles this way--here, over there--outside!

Cast the seeds in the earth and then do other things.
In time you will see what comes up.
Why had I been so puzzled before?

I had had to take the time to see as if from the point of view of objects, not language. To be elsewhere, otherwise, to make some things, to go outside.

Thank you, Morag.

II. And again 

Here's something else those objects say (I hear them as they whisper in the dark):

We are newly rooted
no, we are uprooted

The seeds have been 
severed from the root

Our earth is scattered:
these are the threads of my life.

I need someone else to stitch them
to write the words,
to persevere,
to hold fast to 
whatever is


Sunday, September 30, 2012

Voces paginarum/ Shouting words

Voces paginarum*

The words speak

to me
they leap

up and dance and

so do I.

the teacher says.

(Shouting words,

Not for us

a loud clamour and
no declamation
no exultation
nor excessive
incantation vocal

voices in the head

voices not your
own may pass



KEEP your voice DOWN
(a lady does not shout nor
a gentleman)

(then why when I look
do I see so many

We are not like them those others
who tooth and taste their words
or yours

KEEP your WORDS in your mouth.
KEEP them scrubbed.
Don’t meddle or mix
with other idioms
(lenguas, langues, zungas)
lest those others
(les infectes)       you

Stray not with
strange sounds and scents or

Neither dance nor sing nor
poietes be;
heap up your words:
(I dare you
read that word
in Sanskrit or
any other spraak of



not without a little red*

never get

Notes on words
*voces paginarum (Latin: voices of the page, or reading (calling out) as it was practiced, for example, in the early middle ages in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa.  For Augustine, for example, a text was meant to be followed with the lips, as much as with the eyes. In reading (from Middle English reden and Old High German rattan, to advise), one literally delivers or gives voice to and performs the assemblies noted in the text.  Or as Tim Ingold puts it, “the poetic text is…at once script and score” (Lines, 12).  But today, in school, we are taught that reading thus is bad form; unless we are performing or reading aloud to others to whisper or mouth the words we sight when we “read to ourselves” isn’t done.  The contemporary rule is clear: “read with your eyes, not your mouth”; shut up those words inside yourself, don’t mix insides and outsides; don’t get confused.

Lengua (Spanish: tongue, language)
Langue (French: tongue, language)
Zumba (Old High German: tongue)

Les infectes (French: infected persons; detritus; those who don’t count)

Cinoti from the Sanskrit, meaning to heap up; thought to be related to the Greek verb. poiein, to make, produce or create (poetry and other works of art). 

Poietes (Ancient Greek: poet, maker, creator)

spraak of taal (Dutch: speech (tongue) or tongue (speech))

* “not without a little red” Artaud, writing of the English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, argues that poiesis does not happen without “a little red blood.”  Here he is making a playful—poetic—link between the expediture of a life lived for poetry and a blood price—poine in ancient Greek, poena in Latin.  The difference one letter makes is at once nothing and everything.

Clene is middle English for what is free from dirt or pollution (but the word clean, in English ultimately comes to us from the Old High German kleini, delicate, dainty, which is thought to be derived from the Greek glainoi, ornaments. Clean is thus never quite properly purged of elements not itself, never unadulterated; never pure.)

Notes on photographs
I took these photos of intertidal creatures in August 2012 on Hakai Beach, on the west coast of Calvert Island, in Central British Columbia.  
The purple and orange starfish are variants of the species Piaster ochraceus, a keystone species on the northwest coast of the Americas.  Predators of common mussels, they prevent overgrowth in mussel beds, and thus help to maintain species diversification on northwest Pacific shores.  
The green tubes are a species of anenome known as aggregating or clonal anenomes.  These creatures may reproduce sexually (two gametes fuse in the water and then settle on a rock) or asexually, by fission, which permits the anenomes to form vast clonal carpets consisting of a single genetic variant that lives as a colony, and is hostile to other colonies. The green colour of these anenomes is supplied by symbiotic algae that live within the cells of the host animal, and contribute to the primary productivity of the intertidal zone. The lessons of such visually noisy interdependence shouldn't be lost on us.

Friday, September 21, 2012

How to See in the Dark

Exercise: to see in the dark

Name some of the tongues that lick your ear
what the glass would see if it had eyes

where the flame leaps when it gutters
how the shadow lingers, draws a line

See what the glass would see if it had eyes is a poetic imperative, a mode of thinking posed by George Oppen, who was a 20th century American poet, anti-militarist, sailor and, for a time, a cabinet-maker and expatriate in Mexico, where, as a one-time member of the Communist Party, he'd fled from persecution from the House Committee on UnAmerican Activities. He returned to the US and poetry later in his life; he maintained that writing poetry was a particularly acute form of phenomenological investigation.
A biography and links to some essays and poems may be found here:

See too, Forrest Gander, "Finding the Phenomenal Oppen."
and Peter Nicholls, "George Oppen in Exile: Mexico and Maritain."

Saturday, April 7, 2012

On Getting Lost (Again)

It happened in mid-February, on a sunny, windy weekend afternoon.  We'd been walking on the access road to Taylor's Head Park, along the water.

I suppose it happened because I was scanning the tracks on the road, looking for the ripped-off gull's wing we'd seen on the walk in, half of its feathers intact. I wanted a picture of it, and I hadn't stopped earlier. I was peering at the road so intently that I lost my place on it, and walked right by the little path that leads off to the parking spot at the end of Old Taylor's Head Road.

Not long after I walked on by, something clicked in my mind. Oops. I've gone past the lot. And so I turned back, but then somehow didn't see where I was supposed to go.

A brief moment of suspension; confusion; growing blankness.  A dense grey rain in my brain.

Oh, I thought, I'm mistaken (another little click in the brain), and I turned around again and headed back up the road the way I'd been going when I felt that I had gone too far.

After awhile, I recognized a distinctly bouffant-topped black spruce I'd photographed a year ago on another winter hike, then a boggy patch to the west, but the stone wall near the Bull's Head trail tipped me off: I'd certainly gone too far.  I knew it.

And so I turned around again, but I must admit I was confused.  I felt stupid, the way I used to feel in kindergarten when I was asked to point to something with my left hand or to turn to the right.  Which was left? Which was right?

Invariably I turned the wrong way, and the teacher said, no, no. Left. Right. What's wrong with you?

What was wrong was that I was dyslexic.  My mother gave me a ring that I wore on my right hand for a time. Asked to turn to the right, I'd check my hands. Right: where the ring is. Turn.

I continued the practice of wearing a permanent "lead ring" into adulthood, so as not to have to confess that I didn't know my left hand from my right.  If asked, left or right, I still have to look at my hands, make a gesture, sense this side of my body or that one to be sure of the direction.

Such care has perhaps made me a decent nautical navigator--I'm rarely complacent about knowing just where I am, and check my bearings often.

But there on the road I felt stumped. Then panicked.  Confused.  I'd lost my bearings in space on a familiar road. I've been here many times and yet, where was I?

Only two directions to go--how did I miss the parked car?  I'd passed it, clearly, but where? And when? And how?

I began to feel not simply stupid, but terrified. I'll admit it; I began to cry.

I ran back down the road, back the way I'd come, back the toward the place I'd been before I knew I'd gotten lost, back towards the water, away from the highway, my heart pounding, fear squeezing my throat.

Nothing was familiar; everything was. Was I going the right way or not? What did it mean that I'd gotten lost?

I felt like I'd never find my way out of this blurry zone, this loosened, fallen state. My mind was gone; I'd lost it; here was definitive proof.  Early onset Alzheimer's.

The more I panicked, the less I knew.  The less I could think.
The less I could think, the more I panicked.

And then there I was, at the path to the car. Surprise! It was here all along?

The map of the world settled down into place but not my heart.

Nor Marike's. When I hadn't come, she'd gone looking for me, back, of course, the way we'd come, to the water.  I'd already passed by while she was down at the car, and so I didn't see her head back out; I didn't hear her call me, and she didn't find me.  Classic slapstick: one goes in the front door just as the other goes out the back, and they miss one another, and run about in circles for hours, shouting.

Except. When I didn't come and didn't come, and her path didn't cross mine, there along the water, she began to imagine that I'd tumbled into the water and been swept out to sea.  She'd come back to the car to try to call out a search crew, and there I was, finally, stupified and ashamed.

Maybe something is wrong with me, I suggested. I didn't really want to confess that I thought I was done for, head all amuck, grey matter leaching, another confused soul peering nearsightedly at the world.

Don't be ridiculous, she snapped, just try to stop being so distracted!  It's that annoying camera; you can't see where you're going because you're too busy looking through it.

I'm hoping she's right. So far, the votes are on the side of distraction, not neurological contraction, though I still have moments when I wonder...

Wait. What was I thinking? Where was I? Am I where I think I am--and what if I'm not?

All photos taken at Taylor's Head Park on February 10, 2012, the day in question, as I was walking distractedly.  The whole collection may be seen here:
I never did find the clipped gull's wing again. It was probably the wing of a gull cut down by an eagle or a hawk, the wings bitten off as so much useless inedible weight.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

"Something Wrong": Women Who Crash

First edition, 1928

 (Notes on Breton's Nadja)                   

Nadja. The book looks as if it’s going to be about her. Or chance. But really, it’s all about him.

Double Breton, 1927
“Qui-suis-je?” he asks in the beginning. “Who am I?”

His first answer: “I am whom I haunt.” And then, something like this, though not in so many words: “I am incommunicable but marvelous experiences that serve up telling truths about me.”

Muette et Aveugle by Marcel Mariën
What then of her? Why call the book by her name? 
“Mute and blind, dressed in the thoughts that you here loan me.” Is that how it is in Nadja?

Rene Magritte La femme cachee, 1929

Or is it like this? A rebus: "I don't see the [woman] hidden in the forest."

After all, early in Nadja, Breton says, “I have always, beyond belief, hoped to meet, at night and in a woods, a beautiful naked woman or rather…I regret, beyond belief, not having met her…I adore this situation which of all situations is the one where I am most likely to have lacked presence of mind. I would probably not even have thought of running away.” He adds, quickly, “Anyone who laughs here is a pig.” (N 39).

After Breton dies in 1966, Magritte remembers the moment of this look, this cliché: “In 1927, André Breton and I, each in turn, caught sight of an ad for a certain aperitif hanging from the wall in a bistro. We exchanged looks that neither reason nor insanity could explain. We had the same complicit look another time, when I suggested taking his picture with his eyes closed.  Well, his eyes are closed, but eyes open or shut, one can’t forget that his mind was seeking the Truth through poetry, love and liberty."

In other words, one man catches sight of another--catching sight of a woman? Or hiding from her?--and they are friends forever.

Breton, "Eyes of Nadja" collage

Again and again Breton speaks of Nadja's eyes: “I had never seen such eyes.” (N 64)
“What was so extraordinary about what was happening in those eyes?” (N 65)
Her eyes open on hope which is “scarcely distinct from terror” (N 111)

 Envelope in Nadja's hand addressed to Breton
30 Nov 1926
Nadja. Who is she? Wait, I can’t tell you. Not yet. Nadja really is all about him. What an enigma he is. His dreams. His encounters. His loves.

de Chirico The Song of Love 1914

Enigma? What is that?  

In 1913 the painter de Chirico writes something that Breton admires:
One must picture everything in the world as an enigma…To live in the world as if in an immense museum of strangeness, full of curious many colored toys which change their appearance…

Enigma. In other words, a mystery--now you see it, now you don’t. (I love the way Breton cuts out her eyes but covers his own.) Is this surrealist method?

Nadja, The Lovers’ Flower

Fact. On 4 October 1926, Breton runs into a woman on the street and falls for her. They agree she will go by the name Nadja—short for Nadjezda [Надежда], or “hope” in Russian.  (Does every love affair begin thus, with a pseudonym for “hope”?) 

Despite the hopefulness of her drawing, “The Lovers’ Flower,” those who fall in love rarely have their eyes wide open.

Does the production and reproduction of this image prove she existed?

Nadja, letter to Breton
"Merci, Andre, j'ai tout recu--j'ai confiance en l'image qui me fermera les yeux/
Thanks Andre, I've gotten everything--I have confidence in the image that will close my eyes"

For nine days they see each other every day, Breton and Nadja. Then they take a trip to St-Germain by train, arrive at around 1 am, and take a room in the Hotel du Prince des Galles. (This is a detail that Breton will efface from the novel when he re-edits it in 1964.)
Nadja, Note to Breton

The affair ends here, apparently, despite ongoing meetings and exchanges of letters between the two lovers for several more months.

Simone Kahn, 1927

On November 8, Breton writes to his wife, Simone Kahn, and complains about Nadja, asking, what shall I do with this woman who I don’t love and whom I will never love?  She is, he says, capable of “putting in question everything I love and the way that I have of loving.  No less dangerous for that.”

Watteau, Embarkation for Cythera, 1717, detail

Here’s what Breton says in Nadja about the end of the affair with Nadja: Nothing can be forgotten. Nothing.  Not the glitter of rare and volatile metals like sodium, not something so unlike as phosphorescence in stone, not a burning chiming clock, not even “the fascination which, despite everything, The Embarkation for Cythera exerts upon me when I determine that despite the various postures and attitudes, it displays only one couple…nothing of what constitutes my own light for me has been forgotten.” (N 108)

Who was this dangerous woman whom he preferred not to see [again]--and perhaps, hoped we would not see either, except perhaps as a sign for his special mode of seeing, surreal vision, surreal blindness? She even signed her letters, "Nadja."

Hester Albach,
Léona, héroïne du surréalisme 
Actes Sud, 2009
On 21 March 1927, the woman known to Breton as "Nadja" had a major breakdown, thought she saw men on the roof and began banging the walls of her apartment building.  "For some time I had stopped understanding Nadja," Breton writes (N 130). "I was told, several months ago, that Nadja was mad...I do not suppose there can be much difference for Nadja between the inside of a sanitarium and the outside." (N 136).

 In fact, it seems the woman known as "Nadja" was hauled away by the police, diagnosed with “polymorphous psychic troubles, depression, sadness, anxiety….episodes of anxiety mixed with fear,” and interned.  Thus she began a sojourn of 14 years in various mental hospitals.   

She died 15 January 1941 of “cachexie neoplasique” or extreme wasting thanks to a cancerous tumor.  But it’s also thought that she died of typhoid fever, “aggravated by under-nourishment.”  In other words, she starved to death, in occupied France.  

 Forgotten. A woman-phantom who has haunted many more fantasists than Breton, but was no more substantial than a shadow, a few lines, some sketches: une femme-reve, a dream woman.  Fiction--or almost.  Until Dutch writer, Hester Albach, following the clues Breton left in his book, and the revelations of a cache of letters by Nadja bound up with his manuscript, uncovered some of the details of an identity and a life.

Leona Camille Ghislain Delcourt

Who was this “Nadja” loved and loathed and turned into a symbol of the ineffable, the mysterious, a perfection of surrealist enigma by Breton?   

The name of the author of that cache of letters to Breton was Leona Camille Ghislain Delcourt.  She was born in 1902 near Lille, gave birth to a daughter in 1920, and arrived in Paris two or three years later, likely in the “care” of an elderly patron. She frequented dance halls, bars, the streets, was perhaps a heroin addict, and made money as she could, by picking up clients or admirers or patrons. Breton was perhaps all of these things. And then he dropped her, preferring the echoes of her memory to the echoing wards of the mental hospital. 

Andre Breton and Suzanne Muzard

The second part—Nadja’s part—of Nadja ends thus: “Who goes there? Is it you Nadja? Is it true that the beyond, that everything beyond is here in this life? I can’t hear you.  Who goes there? Is it only me? Is it myself?”  (N 144).   

Andre Breton and Suzanne Muzard

The last five pages of the book, Nadja, are addressed to an "irreplaceable you." Is this Nadja?  Nadja-dream? Nadja is long gone by then. Perhaps not so irreplaceable.   

Nadja’s is not a story Breton writes for Nadja, but for someone else.  Nadja's is, the narrator confesses, the story he “yielded to the desire to tell” some “you, when I scarcely knew you” (N 156).  It is widely believed that this you is a figure for Suzanne Muzard, (who is, at the time, married to writer Emmanuel Berl). 

 Breton goes on: “Without doing it on purpose, you have taken the place of the forms most familiar to me, as well as of several figures of my foreboding. Nadja was one of these last, and it is just that you should have hidden her from me. All I know is that this substitution of persons stops with you, because nothing can be substituted for you…You are not an enigma for me. I say that you have turned me from enigmas forever” (N 157-8). 

I say even he knows he is lying.

 Frances Grayson's plane before its crash in December 192
Nadja ends with the declaration, "Beauty will be CONVULSIVE or will not be at all.” But before that, just before that, we’re offered a small item, a clipping from the morning news for December 26, 1927. A voice has gone mute following a transmission near Sable Island Nova Scotia: “there is something that is not working” Breton writes.  Due to “bad atmospheric conditions and static” nothing more can be discovered (N 160). 

Who has disappeared thus, into foul weather and atmospheric interference? Breton does not tell us, but given the date, and the place, certain details can be discovered.   

The person who has gone missing is, of course, a woman.

Frances Wilson Grayson, aimed to be the first woman--with Norwegian pilot, Oskar Omdal, navigator Brice Goldsborough and her radio engineer, Frank Koehler—successfully to fly across the Atlantic Ocean.  Financed by Aage Anker, daughter of a Pittsburgh steel magnate, Grayson ordered a new amphibious Sikorsky aircraft (S-36), and left Curtis Field, New York, on the 23 December 1927 for Harbour Grace, Newfoundland.

Frances Wilson Grayson on the nose of the S-36 Dawn

According to the front page of the New York Times on 26 December 1927, “Grayson Plane Radioed 'Something Wrong' Friday Night; Then the Signaling Ceased, Silent for 54 Hours Since; Probably Lost Off The Nova Scotia Coast in a Storm."

Another ambitious woman, lost. Crashed.  Downed.

The name of her plane? The Dawn.
Frances Wilson Grayson with her crew in Maine

In 1928 the Ontario Surveyor General named a lake in the northwestern quadrant of the province after her.  The remains of Frances Grayson and her crew have never been found, but Lake Grayson may be precisely located on any map at 50°52'49" North latitude and 89°25'46" West longitude.

Grayson left a written statement with a reporter in case she didn't survive her attempt at flight. In it she said, "Who am I? Sometimes I wonder. Am I a little nobody? Or am I a great dynamic forc--powerful--in that I have a god-given birthright and have all the power there is if only I will understand and use it?"

That almost sounds like Breton.  Convulsive, compulsive beauty, indeed.


I'll bet you think I made this all up.
And what if I did? (I didn't.)

"Photos" and "facts" are such strange tissues these days: fantastical indices, nothing more.
Still, so little of ordinary life, ordinary loves, ordinary deaths, is made up.  Most of it just happens, and sometimes, as here, it is recorded.

Frances Wilson Grayson, 1927

Nadja is a documentary novel, the second known published novel with photographs.  The first was a Belgian book published in 1892, Georges Rodenbach’s Bruges-la-morte.  The photos there were of Bruges, of course.

Correspondence between Breton and Kahn cited by Marguerite Bonnet in Andre Breton Œuvres complètes, “notice et notes,” Gallimard, La Pléiade, Paris 1988, p. 1514.

Hester Albach's book, Leona: Surrealist Heroine is only available, at this writing, in Dutch or French. Several reviews of the work are available in French, including this one: club/article/010809/leona-nadja-heroine-du-surrealisme

Images and letters documenting the relationships between Breton and Nadja (Leona Delcourt) and Breton and Suzanne Muzard may be found here on a French language site sponsored by l'Association Atelier Andre Breton:
I am grateful too, to Susan Elmslie, for her inspired account of Nadja in I, Nadja, and Other Poems (London, ON: Brick, 2006.  See also
for sample poems and a discussion of them.

Information about Frances Wilson Grayson and her crew from wikipedia; photographs of her with the plane come from a set posted by the Boston Public Library entitled "Aviation: Boardman, Earhart & Grayson at

A Pathe newsreel video clip of Frances Grayson doing a test flight in Maine in October 1927 (date has to be wrong--Grayson was dead in October 1928) may be viewed here:

A nod, too, to Hal Foster's rereading of Breton and surrealism in Compulsive Beauty (Boston: MIT 1993).

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Not Yet

We call Night the privation of relish in the appetite for all things.
 John of the Cross, quoted by Roland Barthes, Fragments d'un discours amoureux

She dreams of a soft boiled egg.
The inaudible tear the yellow flood the 
pouring tender not quite flesh on
crusty bread. The tang of cheese. Of
sourdough. Sharp scent of torn basil leaf. Creamy avocado
plucked from the tree that shatters its fruit
on the kitchen window.

Every possibility is in front of us then.

Thousands of days 
filled with sunshine. And the rushing 
And the wind, cool 
on the nape of the neck.

Strong coffee in the afternoon.

A girl in striped pants.  The sensation
of sand 
your toes.

How can it be afternoon?
So soon blue 

She picks up her scarf.

Don't go.
Not yet.
(This can't go on. 
Not yet.

They sit on a grassy hill by the side of the road.
Cliffs tumble to the sea.
She pulls a bottle from the hamper, 
breaks the crust of bread with her hands, her 
red lips black, the 
fading light.

Cool wind on the nape
of her neck.
She gathers her scarf.
(No. Who twisted 

so that) I'll be leaving now
(who twists)
her posture
(someone is 


Oh please, 

A thousand afternoons of light five
thousand ten:
twenty-eight years of days of
sand between your toes 
of cobble beaches and
(sucking sounds)  
they tumble 

(what we call night
what we call)
endless oncoming 
what we call)

Here is my scallop bed,
here is my island.
dive with me.

We paddle to the island; we 
stand in shallow water; we pluck
scallops, sucking out
(the inaudible tear the sudden 
flood the
salt bathes 
her tongue,
the afternoon shimmers
glimmers, tumbles--

the failing

Don't (who has
who has
you around like
who has
Don't. Not yet. Not


so that in part-

While there is still 
light (while those,  
stelle) while those
stars still shine

still (lucevan
shines (seashells) she turns
(on the seashore) she 
stops (seashells) she 
she (seashells)
winds her scarf
she sings
stelle) in
her sleep

Quotations are distortions of phrases from:
St. John of the Cross via Roland Barthes, Fragments d'un discours amoureux
Rilke's Eighth Duino Elegy, trans. Stephen Mitchell in The Selected Poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke, (New York: Vintage: 1984), 197 and
 Puccini, E lucevan le stelle, sung by Beniamino Gigli, 1938

Photos are from this album: "Taylor Head Barachois,"

This poem was my response to an exercise I set my Strategic Fictions class.  We read--and looked at--various love stories as models for our own writing.  I asked them to think about the following questions:

Why, when we think of love and writing, do we so often think of poetry?  Is it because poetry is a kind of writing where not simply each word, but each beat, each syllable, each space and line break count?  Poetry (and love) both call for precision it seems—and sometimes, though not always, an economy of gesture.  But perhaps we think of poetry and love together too, because what we wish of each is a delightful surprise of the ear.  And what do we reap? Often, too often, dissonance, boredom, waiting, rhythms utterly out of step…We also tend to repeat clichés, and others’ words, over and over. Is there a way, nevertheless, to make such suspensions, such repetitions, work?

I do not know if I have succeeded. But as I tell my students, what is most important is to try.