Two more quotes this week, via the black maria by Aracelis Girmay... From reading among all this whirlwater.
There was this:
I thought we would, plural, survive.
And there was this:
The dead are always
You. Not you.
Also this, from Maya Marshall’s “Dear Father,” in All the Blood Involved in Love... The last line of the second-to-last poem, distant and directional and steady like a storytime star:
We are, like all roads, both a thing all our own and a thing in between.
And this, via a post on the Harriet blog at the Poetry Foundation (found while looking for the origins of a line that has haunted me all week now: to be human is to be a conversation...):
I am much more engaged with writing that answers or enacts Etel Adnan’s question, “Doesn’t the act of looking at an object become also one of its definitions?”
The Adnan quote is from her book Of Cities and Women: Letters to Fawwaz. I love the way it confounds me in my first, second and subsequent readings. And I love too, how it reminds me so immediately, of Solmaz Sharif:
Let it matter what we call a thing.
Meanwhile, “to be human is to be a conversation” is the title of a book by poet Andrea Rexilius, published in 2011 by Rescue Press:
Andrea Rexilius’ first book, To Be Human Is To Be A Conversation, combines memoir, essay, performance, research, poetry, and lyric meditation to entwine, twist, and twin the physical and spiritual consequences of sisterhood. Through a series of investigations and experiments, the text transforms initial factual fragments into the bodily material of the (heard and unheard) language of intimates...
Except I’d never heard of Rexilius or her book before now, so that can’t be where I first heard the phrase. And so I keep looking, come up empty-handed, finally lose hope.
Days later I happen to re-read a bit from Poetry in Person: Twenty-five Years of Conversation with America’s Poets, in which Pearl London asks of Philip Levine:
Who was it that said, “To be human is to be a conversation”?
And Levine answers:
I don’t know, but I’ll say it.
This is just after Levine has explained that his recent optimism is due to the rediscovery of my brother and how rewarding, stimulating, a relationship like that can be, if it works.
(If it works.)
Elsewhere in the week, via the “Privileged Ghosts of Paris” in Simulacra, Gertrude Stein is inquisitioning Airea D. Matthews, on a Eurostar out of the Gare du Nord (what verb are you.).
No wonder then I suppose, with all this and in all this, that I can hear some Stein in my head, myself...
All this and not ordinary, not unordered in not resembling.
An arrangement in a system to pointing.
[Santo Spirito, Firenze | martedì 30 agosto 2022 ore 21:31:08] [¶]
[Airea D. Matthews] [Andrea Rexilius] [Aracelis Girmay] [Etel Adnan] [Gertrude Stein][Maya Marshall] [Philip Levine] [Solmaz Sharif]
[apocalypse] [grief/loss] [language] [lyric essay] [making art] [making meaning][memory] [other ways of knowing] [pakistan] [zuihitsu]
Listen. This week a friend asked me if she could take a picture of my “whiteness shelf,” and I felt so seen I almost wept.
[Santo Spirito, Firenze | venerdì 26 agosto 2022 ore 12:08:25] [¶]
[books & reading] [selfhood] [whiteness]
This today, from the interview / talk transcript with Muriel Rukeyser, in Poetry in Person: Twenty-five Years of Conversation with America’s Poets:
I think of an evening at Le Murate from a couple of years ago, when Samiya Bashir had just finished enacting, embodying, and enworlding her “corona” (of) poems. And as she settled back down, finally—spirit dust coming to rest all around us, the fragility of what she had just drawn in the air holding ancora, like a breath or a bubble or a wanting... There was already and at once — I felt like I had barely inhaled — a woman in the circle of our small, still mostly rapt and receiving audience, who cut short her own receiving, who was already talking as if she had not even been listening (could not have been listening...). Who began instead and immediately to tell of what she had to say, a tearing at the air all together and all at once—what felt like a violence of saying.
I think too, of the poet Naomi Shihab Nye, in that session years ago with Krista Tippett (the one I blogged about too, back in October of 2016), about the little girl from a school in Yokohama who wrote her the most significant note any student has written me in years. She said:
“Well, here in Japan, we have a concept called ‘yutori.’” And it is spaciousness. It’s a kind of living with spaciousness. For example, it’s leaving early enough to get somewhere so that you know you’re going to arrive early, so when you get there, you have time to look around. Or — and then she gave all these different definitions of what yutori was to her.
And one of the definitions was about knowing — after you read a poem — just knowing you can hold it, you can be in that space of the poem.
And it can hold you in its space. And you don’t have to explain it. You don’t have to paraphrase it. You just hold it, and it allows you to see differently.
Most of all, I think of a video I watched last summer at Rutgers, of Kevin Quashie on the difference between silence—and quiet. Kevin Quashie on and from his book, The Sovereignty of Quiet: Beyond Resistance in Black Culture.
I go back today, to rewatch the video, and to read a little of the book.
(In the introduction especially, there’s this one word that seems to glow or throb or shimmer, almost imperceptibly, every time my eyes run over it. The word, is intimate...)
Of course, in both the video and especially in the book, Quashie is talking very much about the idea of quiet, in the specific context of Black culture. The way Black culture is commonly thought of as dramatic, expressive, loud, colorful and resistant. The way what often goes missing in all of that, is our capacity to think about the inner life.
And yet, almost everything he says about quiet — at least in the video — matters to much more than Black resistance and Black culture alone. Matters massively, I think, to being human:
Quiet is important as a term, because it’s distinguished from silence. Though commonly we tend to use the two terms as if they are synonyms, they’re quite different, at least in the way that I try to think of them. Silence is the absence of something, or the repression of something. The stillness of something.
Quiet is different. Quiet can be expressive. It’s a habit of being, a quality of inwardness—much more characteristic of the interior than silence. Quiet is expressive, in the way that one can say a song, or a poem, is quiet. [...] One couldn’t say that about silence.
I think of Sara Ahmed in Living a Feminist Life, and a line that broke across two pages — in my paperback copy of the book — with the force of a couplet:
Silence about violence
I think too, of Rukeyser above. I wonder if what she meant maybe, instead of silence, was quiet.
I go back and re-read her lines. How she ends them:
I’ll keep quiet now.
I listen to some more Quashie:
Like the idea that quiet is about expressiveness, but an expressiveness that generates from somewhere inside. From that wild, ranging, voluptuous inner life that we all have.
(Later he says it this way: that concept of quiet—that notion of that wild, voluptuous, vibrant inner life in our minds...)
This idea of the interior is an important one. It’s hard to define and describe, but in some ways, I think of the interior as that human reservoir of our fears, hungers, ambitions, desires, vulnerabilities—all of those things that make us human.
But the interior is not defined by — or driven merely by — what’s outside.
The interior has in some ways, its own sovereignty.
I remember an essay I read last year at Lit Hub, by Lan Samantha Chang, on protecting one’s inner life as a writer, most especially when you have just/finally been published, and are therefore learning to navigate the world as a public writer...
This business of being a public writer, she explains, is the opposite of making art, and it requires learning to protect that inner self from which the art emerged in the first place.
But in re-reading her essay now, I find that like Rukeyser, Chang has something to say too, about the struggle to describe art in its own wake:
Suddenly the newly minted writer must make laborious efforts to describe what he or she has written. Some read history and theory and science in an effort to find vocabulary that will illuminate their creations. This struggle takes place, I think, because the sincere reaction to making meaningful art is often speechlessness. We make art about what we cannot understand through any other method. The finished product is like a pearl, complete and beautiful, but mute about itself. The writer has given us this piece of his interior and there is frequently no explanation, nothing to be said about it.
I think of Ursula K. Le Guin on the phone, via Dreams Must Explain Themselves:
We write stories... Then we publish them... And then people read them and call up and say But who are you? tell us about yourself! And we say, But I have. It’s all there, in the book. All that matters.
And I think of Robert Schumann at his piano, via David Markson in Wittgenstein’s Mistress:
Once, somebody asked Robert Schumann to explain the meaning of a certain piece of music he had just played on the piano. What Robert Schumann did was sit back down at the piano and play the piece of music again.
Do you see what I mean?
This struggle takes place, I think, because the sincere reaction to making meaningful art is often speechlessness.
I go back to the little girl from Yokohama, and what yutori means for after you read a poem: you can be in that space of the poem.
You just hold it.
I come back to Quashie, and the end of his talk:
Quiet is essential in humanity.
[Santo Spirito, Firenze | martedì 23 agosto 2022 ore 18:09:07] [¶]
[Kevin Quashie] Lan Samantha Chang] [Muriel Rukeyser] [Naomi Shihab Nye] [Robert Schumann] [Sara Ahmed] [Ursula K. Le Guin]
[language] [making art] [making meaning] [quiet] [silence & complicity] [the inner life]
How to say it?
Say: In the space between the anniversary of the day my father first died and the anniversary of the day I was born (so, I guess you could say, the day I first lived, the first day I did not die...), there is a week. It was that week, all those years ago when this began, that undid me. It is this week, all these years after and every year, that undoes me.
Say: I would like another birthday. I write this down and it occurs to me that it could mean — I could mean — that I would like another life. But what I meant, before I wrote it down, was only that I would like another birthday—some other room in this house of a year, in which there are not so many chairs.
Say too, that some years it’s not so hard. Not so hard at all.
Say too, that eighteen days before all this begins, is the anniversary of the day my mother first died. And the day before that, is the day I first decided to accept — decided to begin to try to accept (failing over and over again...) — that my brother does not want me in his life, does not want to speak to me, and will not tell me why.
I write this down and it occurs to me that I have not called that last one an anniversary—why? What would that mean? It occurs to me that it could mean — I could mean — that it is not nearly only yearly.
What would be the word, for an anniversary that comes daily?
Anyway. This year it has been too hard.
[Santo Spirito, Firenze | mercoledì 3 agosto 2022 ore 17:11:09] [¶]
[family] [grief/loss] [memory] [time]