Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Carrie Hunter and the Windshield Wipers

Lara Durback responds to Carrie Hunter's The Incompossible

"The binary competes with multiplicity." Carrie Hunter writes this in "Crystal Sewage," one of the blocky floating poem-paragraphs that is a page in her new collection, The Incompossible. Carrie puts forth so many binaries (or what ever name you want to call these back-and-forth things in a mind) that readers are forced to see all that's in between these stark binaries (or, as I wrote in my notebook, "binary as displacement, replacement, one thing possibly substituted for the other). "When our un-thingness becomes thingness, what about the rest of us?" ("Our Daylight Truth") When binaries don't work, we're still here with our binaries.

Like me, Carrie yearns for graph paper, or at least I am projecting that she has a graph paper fetish like me. Wait, she actually does say it, "A desire for graph paper." ("Ontology") She also mentions "power grid of the known." ("Our Daylight Truth") I think the yearning for the grid is about wanting to draw around the grid, wanting to write diagonally on the grid, write all over and take apart the grid. Wanting to think about how to get around the grid, this "real" predisposed, measured, mapped plan of living. Carrie Hunter: I don't know her that well, but when I met her at the release party forThere Journal at Loretta Clodfelter's house (a year ago?) I felt an affinity with her. It was a cozy and supportive gathering. I also know I had seen her around poetry-land, and we had never talked, and I wondered what that was, why is it so terrifying to talk at readings? Maybe we would have talked someday anyway? But it's always so much easier to just talk to the familiar people in public that might smile back at you, isn't it?

While reading, my first instinct was that The Incompossible was about the pain of interaction in some way, how it often should be so easy, but it really is not. The first inclination I had about each of Carrie's paragraph poems is that each of them contains some combination of wants, hurts, and that which is said in public. It does feel incompossible to talk at a poetry event during breaks and mingling sometimes, when you have so many things to say, and writing work you have been consumed with, and residue you are carrying around from whatever is going on in your life, and you are standing there, mouth hanging open, trying to convey wishes/wants/needs, trying not to be hurt, and just trying to notice and take in the room and the air and the weather. "What is influenced that is outside of the sphere of influence's sphere of influence." ("Contour") How familiar that feels! How many times have I felt that disconnect of people gauging people depending on influences, especially with in a writing/art community. This is considered, never solved.

Carrie Hunter is there, exploring these spaces of interaction clouded by thought, (or thought clouded by interaction). Yes I will just say this assertively. And she is doing it in these manageable short paragraphs. And she is doing it with sentences. I always find sentences comforting, as opposed to lowercase words floating in a lot of page space. Carrie puts so much heavy stuff in these sentences that they better not float too much. Hey, I just wrote they are floating at the top of the page in the first paragraph. Well, they are floating AND not floating. 

Oh, I also jotted down, "Everything is foggy and that means today is not today." ( From "[anniversary]," an especially heavy poem that drops to the bottom of a page, as only a handful of the poems in the total book will do.) There is a lot of saying of what is or is not. But in the context of being outside, in the city walking around ("The pigeons walk single file." "Whether there are men masturbating in the street we must walk around." "Barbershop poles will not tell me anything [new].") there is all this huge consideration of dualities, of what has been said or not said, separate but one, like a mind that is huge with thought while a body walks on a very concrete street. Forgive me Carrie, I am skipping around so much to different poems, but all of the text resembles parts of one big whole, so I feel welcome to do it. 

"Reduced to what you are trying to outgrow" ("Once the Dualities Destroy One Another"), yes, I become more convinced this is about knowing oneself as a theorizer, a critic, a poet, an artist, this is the long view of what is going on with the mind. The poem "Once the Dualities Destroy One Another" is one of the keys to this book. The dialectics, the dichotomies, the binaries, the paradoxes within the space of a sentence are told and retold in so many ways. (I ponder off about singular terms for such a long time that it stunts my conversation ability, has led to others calling me obtuse at times, or just making awful faces of disgust or misunderstanding, faces I'm sure I am making myself back at them, while I try to understand.) Carrie also explains this flip-flopping of the mind elsewhere in the poems as an object doing that sort of movement. "The windshield wipers are broken." ("Plenum") "String pulled too taut, becomes two convictions, and must be thrown away." ("Once the Dualities Destroy One Another")

And, yes, I have to go there, but Carrie drops in /"THE/OWLS/ARE/NOT/WHAT/THEY/SEEM/," which could only be a reference to Twin Peaks. David Lynch and Mark Frost who wrote the screenplay for Twin Peaks have the most brilliant systems of symbols going on in that old show, functioning in a very similar way to what Carrie is doing. (I found an antiquated website nerdily breaking down all the Twin Peaks symbols, and I never returned to the site, but I never forgot it either.) Carrie's windshield wipers remind me of the circular fan image that is constantly shown in Twin Peaks, the circular fan is relating to cycles of abuse that happen, especially toward women (the same actress killed again through another character). There is the repeating fan image especially in Laura Palmer's house. (I could go on with the Twin Peaks symbols but I will spare you too much...There are also things like sunglasses that come up when someone is hiding pain of loss or abuse with some sort of toughness. Or the constant image of grinding of the logs, also a circular image, a circular saw, that refers to the big city or big industry encroaching on the small town, and I would arguably say, on women, who are also viewed as a sort of industry themselves.)
Carrie's windshield wipers are not limited to women's minds during an interaction or assertion of thought, but I think that many of the poems do point to a woman's experience of speaking in public or walking in public. But this is something anyone can find access to, a human experience of pinning down the mind that jumps back and forth to different decisions or judgments. Or between left and right brain.

I have not read the other reviews of this book on the Black Radish blog yet (I didn't want to be influenced), and it will be exciting to see what others have said about Carrie's work. It is so exciting to see it in its entirety. It is always scary to respond singly and directly to poetry as I wonder if I am capable of listening at the time I am reading/writing, with all the filters and anxieties that could hinder me from addressing the work, i.e., the words on the page, and not the thing my mind was already working on. I want to honor Carrie's awesome body of work.

The Incompossible is available at SPD.

Lara Durback is a notebook writer, using handwriting primarily, and that means walking around and writing. Public transportation is a big part of that city writing. Work without handwriting forthcoming in Mrs. Maybe. Also look for her editing work on Deep She is also a letterpress printer because she likes machines. She has recently finished making/printing the book Garbage Research 1: Hoarders and Those Resembling Hoarders for Dusie Kollectiv 5 with the collage artist Greg Turner. She taught a class about printing on found items at Naropa University's Summer Writing Program. Her NoNo Press will be a featured artist in the forthcoming Artist's Book Yearbook, though she does not identify as a book artist. Writer is enough.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

“EMOTIONAL ABOUT DEFINITIONS”: Erik Noonan responds to The Incompossible

Carrie Hunter, The Incompossible, Black Radish Books, 2011, $15

Since placing a book in an arbitrary context first, and then enumerating its qualities afterwards, as if it stood around sticking its thumb out, would be a sloppy way to write about reading – because no trace would remain that the reader had ever made an effort to go a little distance alongside the writer, before setting down any reactions – Carrie Hunter’s collection The Incompossible makes for a demanding night: one that enjoyably turns into a month, with no signs of letting up.
                Conversation piques one’s interest among these poems, in that moment when Information has footed the bill for once, and Hilarity finally takes the floor.

The previous is not indicated, but the quiche is. (“The Floating”)

“He wouldn’t actually drive the saucer.” (“Gaze”)

Cocoa butter might help with this, or glass dildos. (“The Coinciding”)

What coffee giveth and what it taketh away. (“The Sentence Before the Asterisk”)

Free cheeseburger with carwash, you can’t win a fight with someone dressed in yellow. (“Locus”)

This poet’s work gets by on the slightest hint that today could turn zany any second.
                Awkwardness puts on its mystique with a difference before her glance.

Almost accidentally taking the anxiety pill and then deciding that I might actually need it. (“Fetching”)

Reading the note on the table, sitting down, then standing right back up. (“A Conchology”)

I have a cough drop, would you like one? (“Temporary Ravine”)

All the asides happen downstage center, so to speak.
                In a handful of lines the poet oversimplifies paradox into a plaything.

The possible is impossible. (“Plenum”)

Antiquities shop the racks of the new. (“The Imaginary”)

Totalitarianism lacks totality. (“Prime Mover”)

Interjection itself interjects. (“Graft”)

Privacy intrudes. (“Graft”)

These lines of stone have the authentic ring of twentieth-century French philosophy in American English translation; and for all the allure of their subject matter one feels that although such pseudo-statement, with its fatal shrug, probably testifies to spoken usage in francophone countries – or at least in France, or at least among French academics – it makes off with its intellection at too high a cost in cleverness.  Yet the pressures of concision never come off in this book as that slovenly knack for the coy effect which masquerades as artistry in too much recent work.
                The troop of fads known as Fashion cedes place to Style, a scale of pleasures in adorning one’s body, that amounts to a code:

Wondering what conditioner other people use. (“Allegory”)

Unkempt and too tired to do anything about it. (“Asterisk”)

China doll hair. (“[pendulum]”)

An aqua shirred skirt is another curtain I want to be. (“Both Ends of the Chain”)

And by an absolute epithet, which ascends to magnificent dailiness, the elegant line “Her insouciant hair” (“Extrapolation”) outdoes all merely contrived glamour.
                In this poetry American things confront someone who represents half the body politic, yet whose opinion exerts the embattled power of a minority interest group member:

Barack Obama is single and lets me sit on his lap.  I believe in change. (“Spectator”)

There is something to be said for the unpopular. (“Language (language)”)

More popcorn is demanded. (“Dolmen”)

The cynicism that pop life so often gleans from the Romantic outlook touches this poetry not at all.  Nor does the poet ransack life’s difficult combinations to salvage apothegms like someone running for office on the Poetry ticket.  The concerns appear comprehensive.  Such dry lightness makes for dependable company amidst the sometimes prickly and moist atmosphere of contemporary letters.  Her wit also belongs, one feels, to the eighteenth century, the Enlightenment – but as Sévigné and Austen skeptically saw it.  Other names suggest themselves: one worth mentioning is H.D., whose London “rails gone (for guns)” ensoul this text written in a California where everyone knows what would be here, and what it’s going for.    
                One finds the tradition freshly engaged:

Everyone born on Bloomsday loves roses. (“The Phenomenology of Imagination”)

When I was in bliss, I was in despair.  Now everything is distinct.  If only this monotonous sadness would turn around and look me in the eye. (“Epithalamium”)

What the just do to the unjust.  What the unjust do to the just and how these terms get switched around. (“The Exigencies”)

There are no seagulls here. (“Contestable”)

I nod but there are no golden apples. (“Numen”)

Negative capability is wearing a unicorn pendant. (“Invisibility”)

How, with ruby shoes, we always knew what we needed to know, it is just that now we know that we know it. (“Ontogenesis”)

One would think that all of those stories were only our own tale – and so they are.
                The book is inscribed to the poet’s mother, and certain lines stamp that figure with the character of their transaction:

The fear of ending as your mother ended. (“The Phenomenology of Imagination”)

The unmother mothers us all. (“A Charm”)

Hearing my mother calling my name in the middle of the night. (“[anniversary]”)

My mother points out her exact favorite color. (“Maintenance”)

When my mother thinks I am not listening. (“The Clear and the Obscure”)

It no longer seems apt to dump Helen of Troy in Egypt at the doorstep of something called the Male Mind, post-Madeleine-Albright; and over the last ten years a hundred thousand American mothers have been deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq; and academe stammers that two women on a corporate board of directors may not be enough in a time and place in which many women still earn seventy-seven cents for every dollar a man earns doing the same work: so this book doesn’t just give the lie to readers whose pet theory is that all women who write are modernists (small “m”) by default; or readers who comb the stacks for just the volume that will emend some cherished definition of humankind.  Instead, The Incompossible enjoins its readership to read and speak and write as if the common tongue were actually worth something – that is, the book addresses the faculty of articulation in every sphere of life.
                Strong emotion animates several propositions which amount to the most fastidious assertion in the book of a lucid sensibility whose dark reflection wears the frayed and mended ball gown of a credo:

What takes place is not heathenistic. (“Corporeal”)

Meaning is a superstition. (“[pendulum]”)

If you want the door open, I’ll open it. (“Kerygma”)

There is way too much chocolate. (“Intrinsic”)

The weather doesn’t tell you what time it is. (“Irreducible”)

You can trust the clock.  Unless there’s been a blackout. (“[anniversary]”)

The visible is what is seen or could be seen. (“Witnesses”)

There are no questions. (“Future Science”)

There is no such thing as opposites, only variations of the one. (“Pell-Mell”)

Truth is plural. (“Technically Sublime”)

That order is what matters and that it is mostly fucked up. (“Lexicon”)

I am not the enigma here and neither are you. (“The Dispossessed”)

If you stare hard things morph into other things, but if you stare harder they do not. (“Plural”)

Inside of us something has disappeared. (“Impact”)

Seams of the human hold together that which is not. (“Numen”)

Such lines are notable for betraying the author’s courage.  
In some of her lines the terms strain toward a statement that doesn’t arrive as bidden, one feels: “Mysticism overlaid onto blind stinking reality” (“[nativity]”), for instance, prompts the consideration that a bewildered anchorite may be the opposite of a mystic, and that the poet’s pen was tipsy, when she wrote.  Likewise with “Consciousness is what causes us all the trouble” (“Contour”): instead, isn’t it true that the only trouble with every state, as far as we know, is enlargement?
Here is all of “Stratum”:


Regardless of the past.  Here is here is here and nothing can be done about it.  When we arrive and are dewy.  Doubt’s relation to certainty and the dance they take.  There is a central question we cannot ask, but we can hear it.  Trees are always reaching out.  Sex sounds are sirens.  What we believe and how shoddy our own truth is.  The world recedes and we are left hanging onto childhood blankets.  Wanting to express sadness but unsure if it is expressible.  Wondering if any surprises are coming or if this plateau will continue.  What I have not given you I will give you another time.

One wants to take the poet at her word.
On the book’s cover, designed by Susana Gardner, the lettering recalls a Barbara Kruger slogan; and the illustration – “Paper Doll” by Matina Stamatakis – shows an unbuttoned black coat, lined with lilac paisley over a scarlet dress, cinched at the waist by a crimson braided leather belt, bare wrist lightly fallen across the hip, with broken nail on ring finger and evident mannequin fractures, altogether inspiring both suspicion and curiosity.  The author herself sports high Air Wears laced with black ribbon, or she did a couple seasons ago; drinks peppermint Schnapps on transbay trains; and, when lost, is not shy about asking the lady waiting on the corner where to find a bus stop.  Carrie Hunter resides in San Francisco.

ERIK NOONAN was born in Los Angeles in 1974, and lives in San Francisco. His poems have appeared in diverse journals and magazines.