Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Notes on Skidmore, Margot Livesey, Philip Lopate, Robert Pinsky, Carolyn Forche

In all caps in my notebook, LUNARIA -- "honesty" or "money plant." I think this is a word from a Katha Pollitt poem. My grandmother used to grow these in our garden, and I keep forgetting the name. She dried the flowers and made bouquets that lasted us all through the winter.

Margot Livesey made a distinction between the external story of a short story and the interior story. Kevin and his dad are sailing, the external story. Kevin grows up, the interior story. The trick is to let two happen at once. Similar but different distinction is denotative vs. connotative quality of language. Jim Shepard brought up this one. The real trick, I believe, is to use the same sentence to denote the external story and to connote the interior. This is the kind of story that makes me spontaneously burst into tears.

I think Margot also brought up T.S. Eliot's idea of "Objective Correlative," an idea of using an object (or person) outside of the main character to convey emotion. Maybe after I'm done with my Skidmore blogs, I'll start blogging about Narrative theory. T.S. Eliot is nice, but I would love to start reading contemporary theory again.

Philip Lopate talked about a poet, "Performing relationship in a book." I wrote down two names, John Ashberry and Frank O'Hara -- I think this comes from Lopate's reading of his memoir on being a poet in New York in the 60s.

Robert Pinsky said "I am extremely uncomfortable with all things Christian." And then proceeded to read a few poems that had to do with Christianity, I believe. I made a note that he was wearing a light blue shirt & courderoy pants. Why was this noteworthy?

Carolyn Forche talked about political poetry and the elegiatic mode. She referred to her book, The Anthology Against Forgetting, a question of "How to answer the accusations of writing political poetry." Because, apparently, in the US "political poetry" is (was?) a perjorative form.

Americans, Forche, said, were expected to specialized. Canadians never knew that poets were not supposed to write fiction. She brought up the name of the poet Ilya Kaminsky several times (he is a very dedicated student of hers), also as an example of someone who felt "Forced to write a memoir." Or is she writing a memoir of teaching Ilya? "Nonfiction/memoir -- for plumbing." My notes here don't really make a lot of sense.

"Privacy and solitude are essential for survival of poetic imagination," Forche said.

And then back to the idea of political poetry and the "Poetry of Witness." Forche said, "There is no such thing as poetry of witness. I made it up." She went on to extrapolate: "We are not living after the things that happen to us, we are living in their aftermath." -- "There is no such thing as closure." -- "We are not even supposed to get over things" -- "We incorporate things into our lives."

In these conversations on poetry, my sense of being outside of discourse was at its strongest. Not simply because of the Russian background, but perhaps because of the idea that personal is political -- and of the deep discomfort with the largely unaknowledged (from the podium) idea of privilege inherent to one's ability to write (and publish) poetry. My authors of "witness," Akhmatova and Chukovskaya, certainly wrote from the position of cultural and educational privilege. -- But I'm not ready to think this thought through.

Tomorrow, I'll do my big post on Jim Shepard. I'm ready.

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