Thursday, March 24, 2016

precisely in the way it manages such rivalry

As I write this I've just started reading Claudia Rankine's very popular Citizen: An American Lyric, a few days after re-reading her Don't Let Me Be Lonely: An American Lyric, powerful poetry about death and its effects on life, that earlier one. I'm on page 9 of Citizen: An American Lyric (though by the time I post this, if I post this, I will have read to the end), and already I love it (if that's a word for it), already I've typed up two passages to hold on to, already I feel like I'm starting to get a sense of what it's doing (among other things, treating the mental correlation that causes "you" to understand that these things (mainly white) people say and do are instances of everyday casual racism — that they are A Type Of Thing — that they are directly connected to both the grinding and the more spectacular and devastating violences of white supremacist racism — treating this correlation as being in itself poetic), already I'm thinking about passages like
An unsettled feeling keeps the body front and center. The wrong words enter your day like a bad egg in your mouth and puke runs down your blouse, a dampness drawing your stomach in toward your rib cage. When you look around only you remain. Your own disgust at what you smell, what you feel, doesn't bring you to your feet, not right away, because gathering energy has become its own task, needing its own argument. You are reminded of a conversation you had recently, comparing the merits of sentences constructed implicitly with "yes, and" rather than "yes, but." You and your friend decided that "yes, and" attested to a life with no turn-off, no alternative routes: you pull yourself to standing, soon enough the blouse is rinsed, it's another week, the blouse is beneath your sweater, against your skin, and you smell good.
(where just a page or two earlier "you smell good" was part of a recollection (narration?) from childhood of something casually racist a schoolmate had said) and
The rain this morning pours from the gutters and everywhere else it is lost in trees. You need your glasses to single out what you know is there because doubt is inexorable; you put on your glasses. The trees, their bark, their leaves, even the dead ones, are more vibrant wet. Yes, and it's raining. Each moment is like this -- before it can be known, categorized as similar to another thing and dismissed, it has to be seen. What did he just say? Did she really just say that? Did I hear what I think I heard? Did that just come out of my mouth, his mouth, your mouth? The moment stinks. Still you want to stop looking at the trees. You want to walk out and stand among them. And as light as the rain seems, it still rains down on you.
which take up two adjacent pages, in part via this note Anne Carson appends to her translation of Sappho's fragment 96, which I conveniently happen to have read and typed up yesterday:
"rosyfingered": an adjective used habitually by Homer to designate the red look of Dawn. I think Sappho means to be startling, but I don't know how startling, when she moves the epithet to a nocturnal sky. Also startling is the fecundity of sea, field and memory which appears to flow from this uncanny moon and fill the nightworld of the poem -- swung from a thread of "as sometimes" in verse 7. Homer too liked to extend a simile this way, creating a parallel surface of such tangibility it rivals the main story for a minute. Homer is more concerned than Sappho to keep the borders of the two surfaces intact; epic arguably differs from lyric precisely in the way it manages such rivalry.
which is not any kind of analysis (and certainly the remaining pages may make a fool of me), just a record of these early thoughts and this coincidence, the type of thing that maybe doesn't get recorded very often.

1 comment:

Ethan Robinson said...

(Of course, shortly after page 9 the book changes enormously - among other things it becomes less excerptable - but, although I think its focus lies somewhere else than where I was thinking when I had these thoughts, I think they're still not irrelevant)