QT: Queer Readings at Dixon Place

Thursday, May 22, 2008

E. Tracy Grinnell and Martha Oatis read, and it was lovely.

It was wonderful: a gently rigorous and rigorously gentle season finale, followed by an unprecedented profusion of mussels. Thanks to all who came.

Here are the intros.

On E. Tracy Grinnell:

Because this is a queer reading series, I want to start off talking about inversion. Arnold Schoenberg’s late-romantic, pre-serialist Verklärte Nacht (1899) was controversial for including a chord he called an inverted ninth, because the note in that chord known as the ninth was on the bottom, in the bass, where everybody knew it didn’t belong: a chord that had previously been forbidden and thus, Schoenberg joked bitterly, did not exist.

In E. Tracy Grinnell’s long poem “Humoresque” we get a couple of lines in which the idea of inversion mobilizes every word or group of words, without ever being said directly:

. . . succumb to deviants’ dreams underway
Night that transfigures.

“Night that transfigures” is itself an inversion of the Schoenberg work’s title in English, “Transfigured night.” This is typical of the tremendously exciting and mobile way Grinnell’s poetry operates—the way concepts and words are circled, unmistakable even in their sometime absence. I go through her poems in every direction. I stack and layer, I imagine her pages as transparencies I shuffle and lay over and under one another, I think of the students who, piercing several pages of Talmud with a pin, could recite the word pierced on each page, that manic polydirectionality: the pan-historical sweep, the perpetual-motion prolepses.

I read in “Humoresque” a condensed, elliptical late-empire Homerian epic, in which “[o]ne loves best a warrior’s coma”—so the idea of the war hero is itself lying suspended, moribund—while muses and sirens work to dash warlords on seaside rocks.

There’s so much more I want to say. I could very happily spend the next few years of my life giving lectures on E. Tracy Grinnell’s poems [Unknown audience member: “You should!”], following each thread in her rich allusive web to its source and laterally through its complex macramé. But for now I should just welcome her here, to the music stand. Perhaps a string player, premiering Schoenberg’s forbidden inversion a century ago, used a similar stand.

and on Martha Oatis:

I’m really pleased to be introducing Martha Oatis, who is a very dear friend. Most of the time when we talk on the phone she’s driving between Boston and Providence, so motion suffuses and carries our relationship more than it does perhaps any other relationship in my life. So it’s fitting that in her work, attention to motion—and to position and to relationality—are so crucial.

In her long poem “Forest Trace,” consciousness moves through via prepositions; in “Metaphysics Continued,” her newer work, that relationality becomes, almost literally, concrete:

“From here, I look down upon the sidewalk. Which later I will find at my feet. I will need it to step on. . . . That the ground provides perpetual connection between places.”

The play on ground is deliberate, I believe: She addresses not just the dialectical figure/ground relation but what the actual point of contact consists of—the pause within the preposition: how that can be shadowy, insubstantial—

“An object in the hand. Where hand and surface meet, there also hovers the shadow between two things making contact.”

—and how that can be substantial, and a ground for inscription, as in the line, later in the poem:

“I place my hand on the sheet of paper resting on a wooden surface.”

A sheet of paper: just enough substance to write on, and what is written on the paper records the surface, and embodies the relation.

This essayistic, open-hearted, evolving voice brings us in on the poetry’s important inquiries. We are the fortunate guests of a compassionately, attentively, ever-changing mind. Alan Davies, writing in Boog City, praised her “soft, quite simply beautiful” stanzas. I’m additionally grateful for her flexible, thoughtful working out of interrelatedness, whether it’s the pavement of I-95 or the sidewalk that provides the connection.


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