I’m home today with a nasty cough and a slight fever. And I am thinking to lie on the sofa in the studio and watch inspiring films while drinking tea that I really can’t taste.

So I google “films about poetry” and what comes up? A list of films that are love stories. A list of films about poets’ dramatic love lives. Read: sex lives. One particularly disturbing story seems to directly equate a very young woman’s sexual desirability with artistic talent. The trailer is shot full (pun intended) of perspectives dictated by the male gaze. I get a very “let’s ogle her while the kitten searches for true love” vibe.

I am cranky again. I am being very judgmental and unfair. And I have used the word “cranky” a lot the past few days.

I suppose one could scrounge up a dozen reasons to explain my frustration now, but one of them is actually related to my current exploration of “what poetry means to me”. Whether poetry and lyric are inexorably linked. Whether the “exuberance” of the lyric is inexorably linked with desire and other aspects of interpersonal relationships. Or whether the mechanism of “art” truly is open to expressing any aspect of what it is to be human. A human was here. Love, sex, grief, yeah. But also other unnamed things that we recognize without “knowing”.

The asemic.

I have experienced exuberance for no reason. I have felt a swelling in my chest and tried desperately to “remember” the cause – was there something new, did I win something, was I anticipating something: What!? I usually start worrying about my mental health. Exuberance without a dramatic cause – a story – a rationale and justification – is just (hypo)mania, right?

Unjustified emotion is a sign of mental illness. Or hormonal imbalances. Or some other dis-order. Dis-order.

What if everything we tell ourselves about why we feel a particular emotion at any given moment is nothing more than another story we’ve learned to compose as a way to soothe ourselves? To control one another and keep the world predictable?

Kids wake up happy without questioning their sanity or looking for the reason for it. I know there are some adults who do this, too. I have heard people talk about them and rationalize it by describing these adults as “simple-minded”. Or “special”. Unexplained cheerfulness is definitely anti-social behavior. It makes us giggle nervously. I’m not sure if it is a named archetype, but it should be. (Note to self to look it up when the headache subsides).

What if all art is just an act of unlearning? Resisting. And that our ideas of what poetry is can get in the way of that? What if art should start where we are familiar and then chisel at it until it leaves us speechless. What if instead of giving us more stories related to our own stories, it tears down every story?

What if it is the “made thing” that shows us the artifice in all made things? Even our own stories?

I watched a really good lecture about Alfred Jarry’s work the other day. I have no idea if my thoughts are at all in line with his. But I am wondering…

The more difficult things become – subjectively – the more I want to make beautiful things, and the more frustrated I become with my lagging craftsmanship. I spend evenings in the studio staring at the paper. Judging. I should have invested more time here. Been patient with myself. I understand now the absurdity of impatience.

M. writes about her diagnosis in a chat message. B. talks around hers over the phone, but on social media, she writes amusing anecdotes about chemo and radiation therapy.

And I find myself separated by one more degree from other – more sudden – death. My brother’s chosen brother, whose parents watched the coffin being carried out of the church yesterday. Put in the ground.

There are places we don’t want our minds to go.

I pull back and assess an angle from which to offer… what exactly? There’s no comfort to offer M. and B., so I offer attention. And I try to comfort the grieving along that chain of sorrow. The people whose pain I understand. Whose helplessness I can relate to. We can choose our connections, but we cannot choose our losses.

I can at least relate to loss.

Yesterday I dug out the last letters to and from my mother. And to and from my grandmother. All the pain came rushing back very unexpectedly. The anger. Fury. Clicking and popped in my chest like a wasps nest as I told myself to keep breathing. To let go of the tightness. There is nothing to brace myself for. It’s over. I copied them and tore them into strips and began the process of making something.

Beautiful is absolutely the wrong word.

Meaningful?

True.

The odd thing is that sorting through this single box of the artifacts of my life, I also ran across love letters from my ex-husband. I couldn’t bring myself to read them but I glanced at some of the phrases on the brittle paper. I’d forgotten the sweetness. The openness. And I mean forgotten in the sense that in reading them I experienced no recognition whatsoever. I am glad I didn’t see these during the divorce process, it would have overwhelmed me to see the whole of what was lost over the years. What good I needlessly let go of. Why can’t I look at these and just think: how lucky we were for that span of time? Without running a post mortem on those twenty-two years. Appreciating, but not clinging, to the people we were.

Nothing is permanent and, for me at least, life has been a series of small but absolute endings that are metaphors for death itself. My mother used to practice for her own mother’s death. That seems superfluous.

Some holy people meditate on their own rotting corpses. But new life begins in the decomposition. The ripping up of the old constellations of parts, making something new of the elements.

For right now: I choose to focus on that. The ripping-up. The making-new. One true thing from all of the lies.

I think that the more I do it, the better I might get at it.

It is always stupid for me to write about or talk about process. In fact, I am convinced it’s a form of self-sabotage. It’s the final step of a creative project, where I cut myself off at the knees and go back to a safe place.

It’s when the oxpecker shows up and pecks me bloody.

I was thinking this must be one of the horsemen of a creative apocalypse, so I googled. Nothing is original after all. There are a couple of models for the four horsemen of the creative apocalypse, actually. Discussing process isn’t included. But now I am thinking Googling any idea should be.

My grandmother said to me, “Karen, I never understand anything you are talking about, but I’m glad you’re happy.” It could be she said, “… but it’s nice to hear your voice.” I’m not sure anymore. Those conversations took place years ago.

It’s amazing how people close to you can simultaneously make you feel acknowledged and completely irrelevant. Dismissed, with a pat on the head.

We may not remember the details but we remember the feelings.

Am I still spouting half-words and nonsense melodies? I am the madwoman in the cellar, in the outhouse. The deluded relative. Fed. Humored on occasion.

“I’m happy for you.”

“Isn’t that nice.”

I guess it forces the question of self-fulfilling prophecies. It spotlights the need for approval and permission, which are met so often with glib responses like, “Who cares what other people think?”

Not caring what others think comes from a position of privilege: that voice comes from someone with a waiting seat at the table, not a stool at the pulled-out cutting board in the kitchen.

Otherwise, not caring is just another form of self-destruction. Mental illness.

This morning a random essay found its way to my inbox from Academia. I have absolutely no idea why. It takes up Sylvia Plath, and her bipolar disorder as a manifestation of Thanatos. And by doing so lifts Plath’s story – Plath herself – to a mythic plane. Which is very different from the reality of dealing with a mental disorder. To the flesh and blood, and the decaying corpse of a mother of two.

The article further promotes the idea of the “true artist” as a kind of martyr. And it led me down a rabbit hole looking for the origin of the suffering artist. Back to saints of the Middle Ages: Romantic artists as secular saints to the god of exceptionality, exile, and death itself?

I don’t know. I just know none of this is Romantic. And none of these feelings are conducive to getting the work done.

I read a bit of the article:

Unsure of where the emotion originated from, it could be interpreted that Plath’s rage is not towards any person or matter – she is not a victim of these, but a “victim of her own brilliantly imaginative brain” (Stevenson 1), the protagonist of a self-depicted tragedy. Therefore, the possibility of the unconscious Thanatos playing trick onto Plath’s mind, creating internal drama should also be taken into consideration while reading ‘Edge’. Further, as Kaufman (47) denoted, some poets “may envision the muse as the sole sources of ideas, with themselves serving as a vessel of their creative works”, implying that by placing herself as the protagonist of her works, Plath is placing her mental health at risk, by creating and living in a hopeless world. The intersection of fictional and real worlds might have brought her illusions that her sufferings doubled as she shares feelings with the character she creates, worsening her manic depression.

Interesting speculation. (Not that I follow the author’s line of thinking where muses as sources for ideas implies anything about Path’s choice of the confessional form).

But no matter. I wonder though, all this is to what f-ing end?

Is the implication here: “Aren’t we glad she did it?”, “And now she has the legacy she dreamed of”? “Her self-destruction is the evidence of her true martyr/genius?”

Is this a psychiatry paper or a literature paper? A hagiography?

No speculation is ever put forth without an underlying tenet.

No fact is ever presented free of context.

I remember reading that Plath and Sexton, both conscious of legacy, discussed their suicidal fantasies. That Sexton was pissed Plath beat her to it.

But I may have dreamt that.

It’s probably not a fact.

Dorothea Dix, the 19C reformer knew mental illness. And she wrote that she “dare not” write poetry, and turned to oration. But not all autobiographical work needs to be reflexively ruminative or Confessionalist.

There are such things as facts. Even when facts are feelings. And context can be restructured. Perspectives can broaden.

It may not keep the oxpeckers away, but Thanatos wasn’t the god of poetry. Dionysus was.

It’s 7:25 am. too early for wine.

(So: not a diary entry today)

I have been listening to interviews on the Penteract podcast, and reading essays about visual poetry and began thinking that perhaps I am not working toward visual poetry – as I’m hearing it “defined” in these places: as necessarily disassociating linguistic symbols from their semantic meanings. That isn’t my goal. I hope that I am still working with visual poetry as it is defined by a community of artists here/there/somewhere? The learning curve here is steep. It doesn’t matter in terms of what I am making, but it matters in terms of getting it out in the world. It matters in terms of community.

What I want to do is use visual elements, textural elements, and semantic elements in dialogue. In a kind of gesamtkunstverk that avoids both illustration and lyricism; the narrative and the line (including movement) are only elements in the whole. 

At the risk of sounding pompous, I want to create a Brechtian artwork that makes the viewer intensely aware of their role as observers –  in terms of a disruption of the audience’s habitual (emotional) response to a text or narrative. But I don’t have any desire to deconstruct the sense of either. 

For example: when the narrative text of a poem dissolves into asemic writing it can take on a lyric quality, I don’t want that quality to be an illustration of the text’s narrative, but it would bring with it its own emotive qualities and push the narrative through a transition that will ultimately, necessarily break down any human narrative. 

All of my work the past few years is integrated with a kind of field-guide observational relationship with nature. From wasps to telomeres. My approach to nature isn’t Romantic at all, I am trying to “ground” the narrative and the unavoidable lyric expression in a larger context with a disruption of perspective. 

I want to flip the metaphor relationship of the lyric poem: human experience is the vehicle, and what we consider the “natural world” is the tenor. It is an attempt to move away from an anthropocentric view. 

An anti-lyrical poetry.


What is horrific is natural. Nature is horrific. Yes, there is the deer in the grove. And there is the blacklegged tick on the neck of the deer in the grove. And in the gut of that tick, the Borrelia burgdorferi move through the tick’s body.

There is a reason designers look to the tiny elements of the natural world when creating their monsters. And it’s the same reason we already know them.

The soft light of the alarm clock begins to glow at 4:10 and intensifies so I wake before the recording of the blackbirds begins. I’m grateful for this cheap, but fancy clock. It’s a gentle way to begin the day.

The morning ritual is set. Bathroom to stairwell, to alarm panel, to sliding glass door, all with Leonard at my heels. I put the button to warm up the coffee machine while I drink a glass of water, fill the dog bowl and wait for Leonard to trip back into the house to get his treat. Then I take my coffee to the little library and turn on the computer. From here, all order falls apart.

On days like today, no words come. There is a quiet weight in my chest and an almost neutral calm. I breathe. I suppose this waiting is a form of meditation. Definitely a form of faith: with faith’s discomfort.

There are days when no news, no comment, no achievement can be good enough. When there is still unfulfilled anticipation. Something beyond hope really. It’s a feeling that touches back to childhood and naive expectations of a vague “good” that is just around the corner. Surprise me! Come on.

In two hours my watch alarm will vibrate to remind me to take the medication that keeps that feeling at bay. Or at least keeps it from being much more than a memory of a feeling.

Another cup of coffee for now. Another sober look at the wasp project and the steep learning curve as I pick up paintbrushes and charcoal again. Wishing I had the confidence of anticipating the “good” now.

It’s odd how self-confidence can abandon you as decisively as a disappointed mentor, shrugging and saying, “I guess I was wrong about you”. A sigh. “But keep working… Who knows.”

A sigh is still a breath, I suppose.