Coming back today, to Kimiko Hahn and The Narrow Road to the Interior. There is much here on the prose poem (though of course, she is speaking in terms of a particular kind of prose poem form—the Japanese zuihitsu). I collect towards a necklace, pieces like this:
Translated as running brush, I love the way the zuihitsu runs with the content.
Paragraphs absorb the emotionality differently than lineated poems. When I tried rendering a few scribbled paragraphs into conventional poems they did not work; there was an over-sentimentality that was not evident when in paragraphs. It wasn’t that the feeling was camouflaged, more, there was an absorption, an acceptance of the emotion that the verse could not bear.
And by the way. Have you ever looked at the word camouflaged—I mean really looked? Look. Isn’t it beautiful?
Elsewhere: The zuihitsu [is] spatial in every way...
Elsewhere again, and speaking still of spatiality: This is where I write zuihitsu—for the permission, the blur, the rooms created by the little blocks of text.
I remember a line read long ago, Hahn in an interview with Bomb Magazine:
Just because something is partial doesn’t mean that the whole is not, somehow, present.
Maybe not a necklace, then. Maybe always, a possible necklace.
I realize I want more zuihitsu. And so I go back to Sei Shōnagon. But there is—has always been—something about The Pillow Book that has, well, not repelled me really... But perhaps, that has required me (as if I’m being courteously asked), to keep a certain distance. I don’t get that in Hahn’s work. I feel like I am allowed up the steps, past the veranda, past even the aisle and into the inner chamber.
Also there is a roughness to Hahn’s zuihitsu. There are broken edges, and much feels unresolved, maybe even messy. Much too, feels uncomfortable. I do not usually get that from Sei.
What I do get from Sei. List titles like this: Things that look ordinary but become extraordinary when written. Of course, she’s talking about the way the words for names of some things, when written with Chinese characters, could be interpreted differently. (And of course, this is only in the Meredith McKinney translation...) One of her examples is the word for knotweed, which is written with the characters that (if interpreted literally) would mean ‘tiger’s staff.’ But along the way, it’s like she’s describing the essence of what happens with zuihitsu.
Things that look ordinary become extraordinary when written.
Back in Hahn again, I find a word I want to change: A flock, startled by a child’s outburst, rises as a single lake of wings. Like so:
A flock, startled by
a child’s outburst, lifts as a
single lake of wings.
It’s not mine to change, of course. (Never mind that it’s not even necessarily better.) But this is maybe part of what I mean, when I say she invites you in...
I write more in spring. The window is open and the tumult, entirely familiar.
Something about the line triggers—maybe this is the way it happens for Hahn too? I find myself listening to lines of my own:
Let’s let the outside in.
Is a promise a prediction?
Some afternoons, when I want to sneeze as if it were something sexual.
And what did she mean with her daughters, always to say to them at night, “Sticks, feathers, string, mud”?
And extremophiles? I must find out about extremophiles.
Finally, the idea of devotion to devotion.
Years ago I found an interview that Hahn did with World Literature Today, in which she quotes Elizabeth Bishop’s words to May Swenson: “Poetry is a way of thinking with one’s feelings.” I still love that. It sounds and feels like something a child would know to say, would instinctively understand.
Would always already know.
[Santo Spirito, Firenze]
[lunedì 17 febbraio 2020 ore 13:02:19] [¶]
I know. It’s not a long time I’ve been gone. And yet it feels like a long time, to me. A long time in a place filled with something that feels simultaneously like the opposite of longing, and like longing.
I come home with things to unpack. Some stuff is in the suitcase, like a photograph of my mother in a red sari, and another pair of paisley earrings. Some stuff is not. Like the color of cooked tea, and the call of that bird at Beach Luxury. Like a blue-plastic-bag, filled with the heads of marigolds.
[Santo Spirito, Firenze]
[lunedì 03 febbraio 2020 ore 11:02:19] [¶]