Yesterday I wrote this:
Shirts to the laundry today? Move the long-sleeves downstairs, and the short-sleeves up. Purge NJ's closet: he's grown out of half his clothes. Stacks of trash & old boxes from the basement storage out to the alley. (Water damage--perfect opportunity to clean things up and out.) Lots of things to do.
Of course, today should really be all about the NEH seminar: emails to participants, gathering handouts, planning the first week, etc. And it will be--but as I listen to the Giggle Twins play foosball downstairs (my daughter & her sleepover friend) before camp, I find myself thinking, oddly enough, of an essay by Norman Finkelstein: "Nathaniel Mackey and the Unity of All Rites," Contemporary Literature XLIX, 1, 2008.
Here's how the essay begins:
Casual readers perusing the 2006 winner of the National Book Award
for poetry probably got quite a surprise when they opened Nathaniel
Mackey’s Splay Anthem. Their first shock would have come from the
eight-page preface, an unapologetic declaration and exposition of the
obsessive seriality that has possessed Mackey’s poetry since he began
publishing it more than twenty years ago. Bristling with neologisms
and arcane references, the preface presents Mackey’s entwin(n)ed
sequences as a practice akin to the poetics of the Kaluli of New
Guinea, a poetics that “posits poetry and music as quintessentially
elegiac but also restorative, not only lamenting violated connection
but aiming to reestablish connection, as if the entropy that gives rise
to them is never to be given the last word” (Splay Anthem xvi).
After quoting nine lines of the poem, Norman ends the paragraph this way:
The eccentric lineation and spacing, the enjambment making for a
continuous but still unsettling syncopation, the free-floating pronouns,
and above all, the disquieting physical intimacy that seems to
be part of some strange act, part performance, part ritual—this
“croaking / song / to end all song” (3) might be more than enough to
dissuade our hypothetical poetry-shelf browsers from turning the
page, National Book Award or no. For despite divisions into individually
numbered poems (some enigmatically composed beneath lines
across the page) and sections, the book proceeds relentlessly through
such strange enactments for the next 125 pages. In short, Mackey’s
poems cannot be read casually; they may not be readable as individual
poems at all.
What strikes me, nags at me, in this opening is the figure it invokes of the "casual reader" and "poetry-shelf browser" who would pick up a book based on its status as an award-winning text, only to find him or herself "dissuaded" from turning the page, precisely because this poet's work "cannot be read casually." Why does this figure haunt me so?
Then I stopped and got busy.
Procrastinating last night I sketched a new draft table of contents for my romance book. Still not done with that, but at least I opened the file and played around a little.
More NEH work today, and some urgent emails about Brisbane. If I can, I'll get back to musing on Mackey, though. His piece has some relationship to this NEH seminar, and I want to figure out what that relationship is. More on that later today, I hope.