Showing posts with label Pattie McCarthy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Pattie McCarthy. Show all posts

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Install the Flash plugin to watch this video.

@ Kelly Writers House, 2013

Wednesday, December 18, 2002

Between the poem & the longpoem come several intermediate modes. One that interests me greatly, because it’s one with which I have a lot of personal affinity, is the booklength poem that might not (yet) be a longpoem in the true sense of taking a decade or more to compose. It can be – although not always is – really the poem as book (which, conversely, almost always means the book as poem also), calling up that curious zone in which the transpersonal elements of a text become deeply immersed with the qualities of embodiment that bookmaking represents.

Jack Spicer was a master at this level. After Lorca, The Heads of the Town Up to the Aether, Language & Book of Magazine Verse were all composed as much as books as they were poems. Gilbert Sorrentino’s The Orangery is another volume that comes immediately to mind as an exemplar of this mode – as are Charles Alexander’s arc of light / dark matter, Ted Berrigan’s The Sonnets, John Ashbery’s Three Poems, Lyn Hejinian’s My Life, Robert Creeley’s Pieces, Barrett Watten’s Progress, David Melnick’s Pcoet, Tom Mandel’s Prospect of Release, & more than a few books each by both Bernadette Mayer & Clark Coolidge.

At the heart of the poem as book is not just having a project that is sufficiently large enough to warrant capturing as a whole between two covers, but rather one that understands itself in precisely such terms, that takes its own free-standing nature as a given. Book design, of course, allows for a lot of fudging – the 64-page volume that was my own Paradise was a 35-page manuscript. Whatever its integrity as a poem or project might be, it was Rosmarie Waldrop who had the formal sense to see that work as book. Thus, not every poem (or poetic series) of size carries this sense of itself as a condition of the writing. Of the volumes listed in the previous paragraph, the one I sometimes wonder about in these terms is Berrigan’s Sonnets. As wonderful as they are – and they hold up to rereading after rereading over the decades, as rich & glittering as ever – Berrigan was such a young writer when he composed that sequence that it’s not clear to me that he was yet even thinking in terms of books at all.

What calls this to mind is a volume entitled bk of (h)rs by Pattie McCarthy. It’s a dense, rich, sometimes dark (& sometimes playful) volume clearly conceived & written precisely as a book. For a relatively young poet – I believe this is only her second volume – it’s a project of stunning ambition & self confidence. And, as readers of this blog will have figured out by now, these are qualities in poetry that I completely endorse. The title alone announces that this will not be an “easy” read – although, because this work is so well written, there are constant & continuing pleasures in doing so, making bk, if not an “easy” read, at the very least a delightful one.

McCarthy’s model of course is the medieval book of hours, which between the 13th & 15th centuries was the most popular of all book forms, but which today is remembered principally for the detailed illustrations that decorated these favored objects of the rich. As her use of abbreviations makes evident (& the Apogee Press design reinforces, especially in the dense prose of the third section), McCarthy is interested primarily in the intellectual / social / spiritual elements of the form, not its role in a history of design. The first section of the book does indeed follow the “hours” of medieval practice – matins, lauds, prime, terce, sext, none, vespers & compline – actually set times of day for traditional sets of prayer. The second section is, as one would expect in this form, is called “(p)salter,” & while the psalms or songs that follow are less polyvocalic that either the first or third sections of this book, one would be hard put to characterize them as lyrical.

I suspect that a reader who was more of a Christian than I would see more levels & depths of reference here than do I. It’s one thing for me to recognize the use of Julian dating in “(p)salter,” but quite another for me to understand quite what to do with it. At that level, I have to ask myself just how much I trust where the author is going, particularly one who, like McCarthy, actively invokes a broad a range of reference, especially in the 21 prose paragraphs of the volume’s third & final section, where the sense of density is accentuated by McCarthy’s resistance to upper case. Since at no point where I can follow does she ever once misstep, my gut feel is to trust completely the places where I simply have to acknowledge my own limits as a reader. A passage like the following demonstrates absolute ability in total control:

the second letters of the original seven
antiphons read backwards yield the acrostic :
I shall be with you tomorrow.
divinations to undertake – times
& purposes to be determined regionally.
I’m not one for a public shrove.
a green winter makes for a fat churchyard.
a long winter makes for a full ear. poke
            holes in eggshells to keep
            witches from going to sea. we look down into it.

bk of (h)rs will probably look like early work one day to McCarthy, precisely because she demonstrates herself taking on such a range & such steep challenges that you can almost palpably feel her growth as an artist in these pages – the literary equivalent of, say, a Beatles album like Rubber Soul, where the Fab Four just start to make the move from best-in-class of the genre they’ve inherited toward working on some whole other level that will transform not merely their own work, but that of everyone else around them. I don’t want to overstate the case here, but bk of (h)rs is a fascinating view of an artist right at the inflection point of her career.