“I want to write poems that touch something chaotic and messy without destroying myself in the process”: Paul Cunningham interviews Sade Murphy
[Sade Murphy has poems in the new Action,Yes. Paul Cunningham, assistant editor of Action Books, interviews here here.]
Paul: Hi Sade. How do you approach writing a new poem? What kind of work do you typically set out to write?
Sade: I feel like when I start something, it’s usually accidentally. Dream Machine began because I wanted to trick myself into a good writing routine during a residency at the Vermont Studio Center. I’d start my day by writing about the previous night’s dreams over breakfast. It eventually replaced the project that I thought I would start there and grew eight legs and several other healthy appendages. So I guess I stumble into new poems while I’m doing something else. But once I have a concept I’m obsessed with it and I have to work it to completion. So I don’t feel like I typically set out to write anything. But even if I don’t have an intention in that regard I do intend for the poetry to be visceral. I want to write something that makes me feel powerful and effective when I read it. I want to write poems that touch something chaotic and messy without destroying myself in the process. I want, at least for the time being, to write poetry that creates questions and discomfort for people, to make them wonder if they’ve underestimated me.
Paul: Could you say something about the structure of Dream Machine? For me, the rapidity and the weight of the poem’s numbers tugged and propelled me through what felt like a filmic dream archive.
Sade: That’s really well put. So Dream Machine is set up in sections of six poems each and each section is titled Dream Machine of the Decade and then subtitled with a certain kind of number. For instance most of the dream machines on Action, Yes are “Sexy Numbers” or “Prime Numbers”. I have this thing about numbers, so the numbering of the poems is fairly intentional. The numbers are the titles for the poems. But it’s disordered too, the numbers aren’t sequential, they aren’t all there, they’re grouped somewhat subjectively. Ultimately the numbers kind of represent this ideal of structure or order within the realm of Dream Machine, in a way that the order is only meaningful to the imposer of said order.
There exists a sole dreamer spawning the Dream Machine. That dreamer is me… which I feel is important to say because I have a particular position and experiences which inform the things that are able to happen in the Dream Machine. There are also a few recurring characters.
Paul: What primarily influences your use of language and wordplay?
Sade: Eleutheromania. I want freedom. I remember growing up and feeling very policed about what I was allowed to write or think or feel. (continue reading…)
In response to my post on Gringpo provincialism, Brian Stefans wrote:
I can’t tell how much you are joking here. I love elaborate name-calling and neologisms as a sort of extravagant gesture like snapping your fingers in someone’s face but do you really be expected to be taken seriously?
Tonal ambiguity; bitchy extravagance; ornamentation and gesticulation; coinages galore. Deep in my plumas, I love Brian’s take on the disorienting effects of my queeny baroque. What does he describe if not the baroque “process of masking, of progressive enveloping, of mockery” that my lettered nena Sarduy identified as
“a necessarily pulverized reflection of a knowledge that knows it is no longer ‘calmly’ closed on itself. An art of dethronement and dispute.”
While “Las meninas” is an example of colonial Spanish baroque painting, I believe it is rebelliously Latina in spirit. As if to decolonize the gaze, the boundaries of art, Velazquez, and his spectators dissolve through a juvenile femme force that destroys mastery. Even in the 21st century, the painting’s assault on all frames and borders restages a crisis of the phallus and its neo-imperialist order.
This is the baroque abyss inseparable from its fullness: the fear of a vaccuum in the face of a missing center, a paradoxically generative horror vacui. (continue reading…)
In response to Steve Burt’s “Nearly Baroque” article, Lucas and Joyelle wrote posts questioning the exclusion of the foreign, and in particular the Latin American engagement with the baroque. Lucas suggested that this “nearly baroque” not only omitted the Latin American poets, but that in fact it was a way of dealing with the threat of the foreign (fully baroque).
For me this is a key issue. One of the volatile aspects of translation is that it asks us to question what might be domestic tastes and conventions. I am fond of stating that translations cause problems because they generate too many versions of too many texts by too many authors. And as we know from the “too much” trope that has become increasingly common in contemporary US poetry discussions, this excess is tightly intertwined with the idea of taste. Taste saves us from the too much, the “plague ground.” It’s in fact because of the too much that we need taste. (See for example my Ranciere post from a while back.)
As I wrote in my last post, “baroque” is a kind of tastelessness, a kind of excess. The tasteless art that is seduced by the artistic, causing it to write too much, to put too much into the writing/art.
There has been some discussion here and on facebook about Steve Burt’s article on the “Nearly Baroque.” And not surprisingly, there has been a lot of focus on this “nearly,” a word that suggests both an open-ness to this baroque, and a restraint, an an ability to control this (possible dangerous, decadent impulse). It’s “extravagant” but not *that* extravagant.
I agree with Lucas’s (and Joyelle’s) suggestion that it has to do with a defense against the foreign, that the “fully baroque” may not even be a particular foreign poetry, but a more general foreign-ness. Lucas asserts:
“The exacted inexactness of Burt’s ‘nearly baroque,’ his ‘almost rococo,’ thus indexes a certain allergy and attraction to the foreign, a certain anxiety over the loss of canon control.”
I am interested in how Burt’s “nearly” plays into a dynamics of Taste, a sense that I think is enhanced by Burt’s standing as an arbiter of taste. For isn’t the most obvious meaning of baroque in fact “tasteless”? The word was first used as a derogatory term calling attention to an excess of ornamentality (which equals crime, thanks Modernism). And this is largely how Burt uses the terms as well. With this important change: the poets he writes about are “NEARLY” baroque.
Or: NEARLY TASTELESS.
El nuevo nada o la novedad: Making Love With Excessive Nothing vs. the Safety of Lack
by Raquel Salas-Rivera
i would like to add the following points to this debate:
1) i am tired of u.s. poets that quote sarduy and lezama, but haven’t read manuelramos otero or marigloria palma (to name just a few), both poets who came from a STILL-U.S.-COLONY, WHOSE BOOKS HAVE GONE OUT OF PRINT AND CAN’T BE FOUND, AND WHO DID WORK THAT IS WAY BETTER THAT MOST OF THE BULLSHIT I’VE READ SINCE I’VE GOTTEN HERE. yo, you folk need to check your shit, or better yet, check out some other shit…and no, a head nod is not enough. i want more, more baroque, more movement from the center. I WANT TOTAL DISPLACEMENT, NOT INCORPORATION. this is particularly meaningful to me because i have this wild concern with preserving poetry that is disappearing due to the center’s centripetal pull.
2) i am tired of u.s. poets that evoke nothingness and chaos as BAD BEHAVIOR. actually no, i’m not tired. i’m excited by the idea that our nothingness and our chaos can still piss off such logocentric, hegemonic models of good meaning. and here i say you need to read some colombian nadaísta poetry. yeah, you read right NADAÍSMO. an incredible movement that invoked nothingness from what some canons would call the margins. read some jotamario, read some gonzalo arango, and then come talk to me about nothingness. also, let’s talk about lack, signification, and patriarchy. my chaos is not your meaning. MY NEGATIVITY IS NOT YOUR SENSE OF POWER.
In the aftermath of my post on the baroque below, a board member of VIDA: Women in Literary Arts accused me of “reducing” my issue to identity.
This person, who works for a key literary venue, said my focus on identity had “thoroughly” persuaded them out of a line of thought that might otherwise have been interesting. They also quoted Marxist theory on me.
Too bad it wasn’t an isolated incident. This is a bias I encounter all the time in writers who claim to have supposedly ‘progressive’ politics.
Experimental U.S. poetry culture, especially, pats itself on the back for privileging some poets—the ones most legible in terms of their political causes—while ignoring others who sound like “strange almost English” (another comment I fielded yesterday).
¿Pero que dices? Are we mongrels just too baroque to bear?
One senses an acute xenophobia in US-American poets’ underestimation of the relationship between identity and form, and the way aesthetics that have flourished outside the US get written out of the mainstream, the experimental, and the political.
Of course, this privileging of legibility and dismissal of the foreign must take turns waving the same tattered flag. As tendencies that work hand in hand, they exhaust gringo poetry at the twilight of a superpower, cornering it into its least visceral, mystical, and transformative space.
“North American experimentalism became a fine jewelry shop.” -Heriberto Yépez (trans. Guillermo Parra)
They’re the two sides of the avant-garde/mainstream exceptionalist comfort zone I’m calling Gringpo Provincialism.
A literary jingoism desperate for its baroque death.
“We are not asking for an apology. An apology is not a decolonizing act. We are asking for decolonization of your whiteness, of your white lists, of your listing practices.”
Leaving aside the poets in Stephen Burt’s article the “Nearly Baroque” in the Boston Review, I think it’s really interesting how his model is founded on deficiency. That is, Burt defines his aesthetic category adverbially by its lack, its mere approximation, when the baroque by definition is primarily about fullness.
Mi gente, there is even such a thing as the Ultrabaroque, the supercharged flipside to Burt’s starved oxymoron.
In response to Burt, Joyelle wrote the following in her Poetry Foundation post “I Want to Go All the Way”:
….there is only a glancing mention, a name-checking, of the Latin American category of the Neo-Baroque. Investigation of Latin American authors, many of which have now been translated, could have lead to an interesting conversation regarding what it means that this literary style is emerging from across so many different regions, ethnicities, languages, across economic, historical & political conditions. That feels like a missed opportunity and a false erecting of a boundary. But more pressing to me is Steve’s insistence on “nearly” and “almost” throughout the piece. I counted, VIDA-style: 32 instances of “nearly,” 12 instances of “almost.” Why is it important for Steve to mark the border this way, to locate his poets on just this side of the Baroque? Just North of the Baroque? So far from God, ever-so-close-to-but-still-distinguishable-from the Baroque? Is he holding back, or are they? And why?
After mulling over Joyelle’s questions, I went all the way, adding to them. Why does Burt bother with the baroque in the first place? Instead of meeting the baroque halfway, why not come up with a more tailored concept (a la the Montevidayans) like the Gurlesque, the Necropastoral, or Atrocity Kitsch? Or even Burt’s own “elliptical poetry” or “the New Thing”? Then it occurred to me just how important lack in the “Nearly Baroque” may be. I think the ‘nearly’ of his taxonomy troubles it in ways that Burt doesn’t actually intend. In its admission to not quite living up to Severo Sarduy or Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, the “Nearly Baroque” reads like the ultimate symptom of American literary provincialism.
A provincialism the term itself takes to its limit, nervously marking it. As if the boundaries that prop up jingoist navel-gazing had to finally dissolve. (continue reading…)
Markets predate capitalism. Capitalism is better understood as designating a society that subordinates all processes — notably the metabolism between humanity and nature, the production and distribution of goods and services, the function and composition of government, and of course, market exchange — to the private accumulation of capital. – Benjamin Kunkel
Occupy Wall Street says / yes to spectacle./ Yes to virtuosity. / Yes to transformations / And magic and make-believe. – Scott McFarland
I’m a big fan of David Foster Wallace — I tend to think of him as probably the best American fiction writer of his generation — and yet there has always been one aspect of his work I’ve disagreed with: the theme of irony versus sincerity. We see it in some his interviews, and it’s a shaping force in many of the stories in Hideous Men. Irony, here, seems incompatible with sincerity, with an expression from the truer aspects of the self. As Wallace said in one interview, irony becomes the bird in love with its own cage. In some of the stories in Hideous Men, there is a constant attempt to undo irony, to take off the multiple masks, to approach the reader as a naked self (fully aware that this self might be a mask too, and not free of manipulative impulses).
But I don’t think there has to be a divide between irony and sincerity. As the Narrator says in Dostoyevsky’s Notes from Underground, sometimes we are at our most sincere when being at our most ironic, even mocking. For example, the scene where the Underground Man is waxing sentimentally about family life to Liza, the prostitute he has just slept with. Though the Narrator is performing, and deliberately trying to make Liza uncomfortable with his sentimental visions, he also realizes, as he goes on with his speech, that he is moved by it: he is performing, and yet caught up in his own performance (“I was so carried away by my pathos that I began to feel a lump forming in my throat…”).
And what could be more sincere than Swift’s Modest Proposal? Or Voltaire’s Candide? Works dripping with acidic irony. Godard is one of the great ironists in film, and yet it would be strange to argue he doesn’t have deep-seated political beliefs, or a “sincere” vision of a better world.
From Eva Brauns’ body snow in and
Finally cover over the portals. There is nobody
From the soil. It is still
The thirties. Grass on the floor, it is
Different, the apartment with
The white friends in underwear in
The burning grass.
- Lars Noren (from Final Song on the Morning of Eva Braun’s Death)
Yesterday I wrote a piece about ruin porn inspired by my visit to Detroit. It was really more about the critique/condemnation about “ruin porn,” how this critique stages a condemnation of art and art’s deformation zone, how it also stabilizes something volatile about art, and especially the image.
I see the same condemnation/stabilization in a lot of the rhetoric around kitsch. So that Saul Friedlander condemning kitsch for its connection to Nazism is a little like condemning art as “ruin porn.” Friedlander could be talking about these Detroit pictures here:
“Here is the essence of the frisson: an overload of symbols; a baroque setting; an evocation of a mysterious atmosphere, of the myth and of religiosity enveloping a vision of death announced as a revelation opening out into nothing – nothing but frightfulness and the night. Unless… Unless the revelation is that of a mysterious force leading man toward irresistible destruction.”
But if it’s “porn”, how come there are no bodies in it?
Of if these pictures have bodies in them, they must certainly be corpses, right? Corpse porn?
And Blanchot pointed out a long time ago the intimate connection between images and corpses:
“The cadaver is its own image. It no longer entertains any relation with this world, where it still appears, except that of an image, an obscure possibility, a shadow ever present behind the living form which now, far from separating itself from this form, transforms it entirely into shadow. The corpse is a reflection becoming master of the life it reflects—absorbing it, identifying substantively with it by moving it from its use value and from its truth value to something incredible—something neutral which there is no getting used to. And if the cadaver is so similar, it is because it is, at a certain moment, similarity par excellence: altogether similarity, and also nothing more. It is the likeness, like to an absolute degree, overwhelming and marvellous. But what is it like? Nothing.”
Maybe we need a “parapornographic” reading of Detroit?