Monday, November 30, 2009

Mary Molinary: Thoughts concerning poems composed for/by the left hand

This sequence of poems began, and served as, a dispossession ritual for me.

Typically, I work projects in tandem: a longer piece worked for a year or more, punctuated by one or two interrupting or concurrent, smaller projects. With a background, and continued interest, in Linguistic Anthropology, I came to poetry purposefully and seeking to explore and develop further what I hoped would be my contributions to the Human Conversation, as I call it, and concerning in particular the play between the Diachronic and Synchronic; between (cultural) History and Memory; and those Discourses at play between them all. I chose, then, Poetry rather than Anthropology and Film and, more importantly perhaps, chose a return to the Delta South to pursue these poetics and this thing called poetry.

This sequence is a sequence. Not a series. The sequence was a dispossession ritual.

I envisioned the most recent long long piece (being made in the midst of a long long war) as a long long river without end; a river cutting through a landscape with all the teeth and force of a chorus, of history, feeding and being feed in synchronic bursts over time and time. Diachronia. Confluence and contingency. Confluence and correspondence. Delta South as metonymy for a Global South, as metonymy for the long long stories of oppression, cultural amnesia, and resistance.

A sequence, like a ritual, has a beginning and an end.

Over two years deep, and a few smaller projects, into the long long river piece, I realized I needed to envision a temporary stop, if not ending. My crisis wasn’t so much with “language” itself—language can never really be emptied of meaning and power regardless the attempts—but with the very act of writing. The act of writing: the body assaying meaning and sense was moving too quickly. Pen and ink, keyboards and illuminated screens. I needed to remember. I needed slowness. I needed lessness.

Enter one #2 Ticonderoga fat yellow pencil for beginners. Holding it with estranged familiarity.

Remembering the thrill of making. Letters and words. I decided to write a tribute of sorts to my left hand who never had the pleasure of that learning, and that would act as an allegory for a very real and illusory “South” in order to help me dispossess (so that I wouldn’t end up like Q. C. in Absalom! Absalom!). Quickly, I realized that for the dispossession and experiment to work, the Left Hand would need to write the poems. The “bastard in the woodshed” needed to compose this sequence. That would be my imposed limitation leading to lessness.

A sequence is a ritual. Experiments might be rituals. Liminal spaces inhabit all of them.

What I expected from this experiment was that my left hand would move slowly and make a few mistakes, but would quickly improve. I do not subscribe to theories of essentialism or to theories of genius, so I was quite certain that my left hand would have only minor and short-lived problems with articulation. What floored me is that my left hand did not know the first thing about poetry. Apparently, I had learned that (and what else!?) with only or mostly my right hand. My left had to learn to write a poem. Even after the right was eventually allowed to edit, the left hand poems remain mostly honest about that process. The difficulty in the process was determining what parts could be cut without losing the account of that process—and how many inconsistencies and errors could or should be left. I don’t know how they have the generosity and time, but Lee Sharkey and John Rosenwald spent considerable time assisting and suggesting just the right sorts of changes. (As ever.) Moreover, what Lee and John and BPJ do especially well is the arrangement of poets and poems in each issue. I am always excited to see my work in a context of their choosing. The reverberations and hauntings created that way.

While the Dispossession Ritual Experiment, and seeing/hearing the poems, in the conversational context of the Winter BPJ taught me much, I haven’t yet had the time to process fully all the implications of it.

This sequence of poems began