The Operating System

6th ANNUAL NAPOMO 30/30/30 :: DAY 23 :: KLARA DU PLESSIS ON ANNE CARSON

HAPPY POETRY MONTH, FRIENDS AND COMRADES!

For this, the 6th Annual iteration of our beloved Poetry Month 30/30/30 series/tradition, I asked four poets (and previous participants) to guest-curate a week of entries, highlighting folks from their communities and the poets who’ve influenced their work.

I’m happy to introduce Janice Sapigao, Johnny Damm, Phillip Ammonds, and Stephen Ross, who have done an amazing job gathering people for this years series! We’re so excited to share this new crop of tributes with you. Hear more from our four guest editors in the introduction to this year’s series.

Hungry for more? there’s 150 previous entries from past years here! You should also check out Janice’s piece on Nayyirah Waheed, Johnny’s piece on Raymond Roussel, Phillip’s piece on Essex Hemphill, and Stephen’s piece on Ronald Johnson’s Ark, while you’re at it.

This is a peer-to-peer system of collective inspiration! No matriculation required.
Enjoy, and share widely.

– Lynne DeSilva-Johnson, Managing Editor/Series Curator

WEEK 4 :: CURATED BY STEPHEN ROSS

The community of poets and scholars convened here for the OS’s National Poetry Month has never existed, as far as I know, in the same geographical or electronic space. Yet I’m moved to see that the members of this new community (excluding the New Yorkers) all hail from the places I’ve lived that mean the most to me: Montreal, the UK Midlands, North Carolina, Georgia. I canvassed old friends and new acquaintances, as well as friends of friends, to contribute to this year’s Poetry Month, and am delighted to find how meaningfully the contributions resonate with each other. These mutually reinforcing energies are not simply a matter of aesthetic and/or political affinities between the poet-scholars and their poets, but emerge from each contributor’s recognition and appreciation of the particulars of their chosen poet. 

Contributions by Charles Gonsalves (on Barbara Guest), Sarah Huener (on Eileen Myles), and Aaron Goldsman (on Tommy Pico) span three generations of what some might still be pleased to call the New York School–which generation are we on now? Other contributors attend to the limits of poetics: Klara DuPlessis reflects eloquently on Anne Carson’s (de)creative refusal to finish a book, while Zohar Atkins ponders William Bronk’s endless rewriting of the same poem. Aaron Belz’s tribute to Robert Bly’s translations of César Vallejo speaks to the winding, unpredictable process of poetic influence.

Stephen Ross is a literary scholar, translator, and editor. He earned his PhD in English from the University of Oxford in 2013 and is a founding editor of the literary web-journal, Wave Composition. With Ariel Resnikoff, he is working on the first-full length translation and critical edition of Mikhl Likht’s Yiddish modernist long-poem, Processions. He is a contributing editor for The Operating System’s Unsilenced Texts series, and also co-editor with Dr. Alys Moody of the forthcoming anthology, Global Modernists on Modernism (Bloomsbury, 2017), a 190,000-word sourcebook that draws on a large archive of historical materials — statements, manifestos, letters, prefaces, introductions, hybrid works, etc — by modernist practitioners across the arts, with a special focus on untranslated, poorly disseminated (in English), and ‘forgotten’ texts. His current book project is a study of modern American poetics and objecthood.

REDEFINING A WHOLE: KLARA DU PLESSIS ON ANNE CARSON

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Anne Carson never completes a book. (Currently, I am surrounded by her books. Plainwater is on my lap. Red Doc> lies open beside me and Decreation peeks out from underneath it. It crosses my mind that I need an extra perpendicular desk to lay out Eros the Bittersweet, my printout of “The Gender of Sound,” the multiple inserts of Float.) And yet, Anne Carson never completes a book.

Sometimes I feel I spend my whole life rewriting the same page.” from Float

To qualify, this statement is positively inflected. There is an organic character to Carson’s writing that defies its container. Texts slip and merge, swell, growing tendrils that navigate thematically, stylistically into a distinct set of covers. Take for example how a book-length, cohesive poem like Autobiography of Red, first published in 1998, reappears 15 years later in the pseudo-sequel Red Doc>. There are hints of narrative continuity, but there is also a complete disengagement from previous concerns; the follow-up’s priority isn’t primarily to follow, but rather to break the chronology from one book to the next, to trouble the waters between; there is no moat with snapping crocodiles between Carson’s publications, but the same demons populate a nonlinear timeline of writing. (As I open Red Doc> for the first time since 2013, I find handwriting in the margins marking the sprouts of a poem that will soon be released as my debut collection. I am grateful for that periphery, which let me reach out to my book to be.)

To stand in time with your back to the future your face to the past what a relief it would be.” from Red Doc>

If objects are not solid. / If objects are much too solid.” from Decreation

A book usually signifies a whole, but Carson’s books often splinter off into parts, another iteration of incompleteness. Plainwater, for example, is divided into five disparate sections encompassing her famous Short Talks, a numbered progression of poems, journal-like musings on her pilgrimage with a friend to Santiago de Compostela, and more. And then even these sections are further sliced into chapters in their own right. It’s as if the table of contents uphold the illusion of a whole, whereas the rest of the book slips off the edge of that definition into ever decreasing units of poetic reflection.

And anyway, who is to delineate the smallest measure of wholeness? Carson’s title Decreation—billed as Poetry * Essays * Opera—comes to mind again for its simultaneous insinuation of disintegration and construction. Building a whole from an infinity of smaller, fragmenting wholes. (Searching “decreate,” my laptop dictionary offers me “decorate,” and now I think of the bits and pieces we place in our homes to establish décor and that ultimately unifies the space, transforms into the good graces of decorum.) Up from the debris, whole forms float; atomic pinpricks of words that recombine and articulate.

CHORUS:
Gods get a kick out of pinnacles.

DIONYSOS:
And what is a pinnacle?

CHORUS:
A pinnacle is a lot of pins.”

from Float

The absolute genius of Float is that Carson is able to make a radical statement of novelty through one of the most integral formal aspects of the poetry collection as a genre. At least personally, when I envision the archetype of a poetry collection, I see a book object including a linear progression of poems, each starting on a new page, divided, sometimes thematically in conversation with one another, but more often just a selection of the poet’s so-called best pieces from a certain period of time. Now think about Float. It is a collection of 22 separate chapbooks—essays, long poems, dialogues, translations, lists—to be read in no particular order, guarded in a transparent box, texts floating, so to speak, in their independent status as writing simultaneously together and separate. Innovative! This has never been done before! Yes and no. For isn’t a gathering of non-connective poetic parts the very definition of what is recognized as an anthology?

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from Float

“Where is the edge of the new?” writes Carson. Does the disintegration of the bound book into a choir of loosely cased booklets signal the new? Or is this a process of externalizing, making transparent, what usually encompasses the interiority of a book’s pages? Not the new. It is at the heart of Carson’s engagement with ancient texts, languages and mythologies, to take the old, the unfamiliar and to render it synonymous with the new. As an extreme expression of this project, Float removes the edges, the definitions of novelty, allowing her most recent work a gentle buoyancy, a masterfully contained free fall of poetry.

Klara du Plessis is a Montreal-based poet and critic. Her chapbook, Wax Lyrical—shortlisted for the bpNichol Chapbook Award—was released from Anstruther Press, 2015; a debut collection is forthcoming from Palimpsest Press, 2018. Poems have recently appeared in Asymptote, Canthius, CV2, PRISM, Minola Review, among others. She curates the Montreal-based Resonance Reading Series.

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