Today I try to explain to the woman at the winebar, what I feel, at having had to give up what is usually my time—my writing time—these past days, to the greedy gods of the dayjob. I ask her how to say it in Italian, the way I feel, and she insists there isn't a single word that works. That instead I must use frustrata (frustrated), or incazzata (fucking angry), but that that's as close as I can get.
I don't try to argue. With this one it is, shall we say, frustrante.
But in my head I think, oh no my dear. You cannot tell me that this language of Dante, she doesn't have a word, for resentful.
[Santo Spirito, Firenze]
[lunedž 12 marzo 2018 ore 17:13:17] [¶]
This week I happen to listen to these lines, in a poem by Marilyn Hacker:
“To each nation, its Jews,” wrote Primo Levi.
“Palestinians are Jews to Israelis.”
Afterwards, he died in despair, or so we
To each nation its Jews, its blacks, its Arabs,
Palestinians, immigrants, its women.
This week I happen to read this:
“The racist things that people say in the open in Britain would not have been acceptable five years ago,” said Kureishi. “You can see it in the rise of political parties in Poland, you can see it in Austria and Hungary. You saw it visibly with the rise of Marine Le Pen in France, and in quite a number of other places. You can see the rise of racist politics and a new kind of racism that I have not seen in my lifetime.”
“Itís a very dangerous thing, for once you turn someone into a fiction, you can say anything you like about them or do anything to them. It is a very dark time.”
[Santo Spirito, Firenze]
[lunedž 05 marzo 2018 ore 22:08:08] [¶]
Still with, still in The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Prose Poetry, todayís essay, “I Cannot Escape the Prose Poem,” is by Brigitte Byrd (a woman at last...). She talks about constructing a poem from the multiple thoughts that assault my/one's mind during what she calls these mystical moments: We have all heard of a writer entering the “zone” in order to compose, which is really a trance-like state, [...] a state of hyper-awareness.
This feels familiar, not just because of course it does, but in that way that calls up other things. I get up and find my copy of The Best American Essays of 2006, turn to a much dog-eared, much marked-up favorite, and find what I remember is here. This is Alan Shapiro, trying to answer the question that titles his essay, “Why Write?”:
So the work itself always entails frustration and failure; it can damage our most intimate relationships; its public rewards are illusory at worst, fleeting at best. And if you write poetry, hardly anyone is listening. So why do it?
Elizabeth Bishop provides a possible answer in a famous letter to Anne Stevenson. Bishop writes that what we want from great art is the same thing necessary for its creation, and that is a self-forgetful, perfectly useless concentration. We write, Bishop implies, for the same reason we read or look at paintings or listen to music: for the total immersion of the experience, the narrowing and intensification of focus to the right here, right now, the deep joy of bringing the entire soul to bear upon a single act of concentration.
Later in the essay he describes the moment of creation as a moment in which we forget all else but the task at hand, when preparation and luck coincide, when the burden of the past and the future lifts and exhilaration comes...
It is self-forgetful even if you are writing about the self, because you yourself have disappeared into the pleasure of making; your identity—the incessant, transient, noisy New York Stock Exchange of desires and commitments, ambitions, hopes, hates, appetites, and interests—has been obliterated by the rapture of complete attentiveness. In that extended moment, opposites cohere: the mind feels and the heart thinks, and receptivityís a form of fierce activity. Quotidian distinctions between mind and body, self and other, space and time, dissolve.
Athletes know all about this nearly hallucinatory state. They call it being in the zone. They feel simultaneously out of body and at one with body.
This bounces me back to the Byrd essay:
Rimbaud saw the poet as a seer and a shaman, which means he thought the poet capable of altering the very nature of reality through a sort of induced dissociation of oneís personality, what he called a “reasoned derangement of the senses.”
A reasoned derangement of the senses. How I love that. And so Byrd continues:
This temporary state of mind is essential to my composition process because it allows me to tap into my subconscious, to reach my core, to go with what I call my “obsession” of the moment.
And here I return to Shapiro, because Byrdís “obsession” of the moment feels to me like another way of coming back around to Bishopís perfectly useless concentration. Itís perfectly useless, according to Bishop, because it is its own reward, the mysterious joy of it. It is singing for the sake of singing. And even if the singing pleases others or consoles them, stirs them to further the cause of justice in the world [and so on], those effects and ramifications are nonetheless incidental to the primal, fundamental urge to sing...
From here Shapiro begins to think about how this works for his own writing, and of how (and why) certain days—the ones in which I sit down at the desk at nine A.M. and look up to discover that itís three P.M and that six hours have passed in a single moment—are the best days:
It doesnít matter, ultimately, whether what Iíve written is any good or not. (This makes me think of that thing Allison K. Williams said: Do what you love and are good at. Do it often enough to get better. Do it when and where you can. Thatís real. Thatís enough.) I always feel renewed and grateful if the material, whatever it is, induces that self-forgetful, perfectly useless concentration. While Iím working, Iím only working; nothing else exists. Inside and outside feel perfectly aligned, and throughout the full range of my faculties and sensibilities Iím entirely alert, entirely present—and this, for me, too rare experience of being there, wholly there, never fails to exhilarate. While it lasts, thereís no joy like it.
But as he says, it never lasts long enough or happens often enough to satisfy my yearning for it. Emily Dickinson describes its passing as a “sumptuous destitution.” And even in the best of times, when the moment passes and the poemís written, when we rise from the desk to return to the world awaiting us—our tangled loves and commitments—the exhilaration is nearly indistinguishable from “unfathomable loss.”
I donít know. Maybe Iím okay with a bit of unfathomable loss and sumptuous destitution, if itís the price I must pay for a little reasoned derangement of the senses, or at least, for some of that deep joy of bringing the entire soul to bear upon a single act of concentration. (And of creation too, maybe. If itís a good day.)
[Santo Spirito, Firenze]
[sabato 03 marzo 2018 ore 14:41:00] [¶]
A friend writes after ten months and thinks it has been six. I wonder about the difference. I wonder too, about the difference, between being written to
and being responded to.
I want you to do only that which is important to you. But then when you do it. Do it like itís important to you.
I want the opposite of carelessness.
[Santo Spirito, Firenze]
[venerdž 02 marzo 2018 ore 17:13:17] [¶]