Thursday, February 17, 2011


"Bohemian Rhapsody," "Happiness is a Warm Gun," "Band on the Run," and "Paranoid Android" are all songs that are known for their diversity--the way that they slip around on you--and are commonly thought of as more than one song somewhat cut and pasted together. But done so very well, of course. Which gets me to thinking--why do we like this idea? I mean, the concept of a mini-album contained in one song falls completely flat on its face so hard it doesn't even have a nose anymore. So why do we like the idea of a song containing the diversity of an album? I would postulated this is an interest in disparate connections: we enjoy being stunned by two ideas the fit together so well that we can't even see the seams where they logically attach. It's like CatDog: at what point is one the other? And yet they are completely different! And that's, as they say, poetry.

Okay so let's just start out with the facts: I can be quite the asshole. Calling out reviewers on Amazon is common assholery and I'm not arguing with that--in fact I'm not just agreeing with it, I'm suggesting it, as writing is (ironically, considering recent posts) most likely done by the solitary man (or woman). So let's be the douchebag friend everyone has, because, as far as assholes go, s/he is the easiest one to deal with. In so doing, I am only going to quote the review. Not name the writer.
If you've noticed Carson's stardom recently you owe it to yourself to read this first book. I give it only 3 stars because a lot of the book is actually pretty dull poetry. But about 80 pages of it makes up "The Anthropology of Water," an extraordinary journey in one woman's life, emotionally, poetically, and culturally.
Let me now admit something. When I first read this review what went into my memory was somewhat an insult to poetry itself. That's what percolated and caused me to write this post. Now on reread I misread as I so often (too often) do. There's no outright claim that "The Anthropology of Water" isn't poetry. It is somewhat implied, but I'm stretching it. Still--Plainwater is a much more friendly book from Anne Carson in comparison to Men in the Off Hours, which you can click the back button and scroll down a bit to read about. It's not on the same level as The Autobiography of Red or The Beauty of the Husband, but the reviewer is write in showcasing "The Anthropology of Water" which probably does outshine the other two books, on average.

What I wanted to talk about was my conception of poetry. It's becoming more and more in line with Li-Young Lee's--namely that poetry is the highest form of writing. Not so much that line breaks are the shit but that writing at the highest state, no matter what, is poetry. So in this way, "The Anthropology of Water" is doubtlessly poetry.

Now this is a simply definition and I don't mean to be stuck up or anything but in self-comparison there is a difference. Last semester I took a fiction writing class and began writing stories for the first time since I had really started to think of myself as a poet. And they were different. At their best, then, one might realize, they were poems. [Note: I plan on transcribing some of these at some point if I can find them. I printed them without saving out of Word for some reason at the time. Please don't question how I write; I don't.] So one of the major distinctive factors I can speak about is the ultimate aim for the work: prose is associated with narrative. Resisting narrative is, thus, poetic. Let me simply cut out two scraps of "The Anthropology of Water" where Anne Carson resists narrative.
I wanted to tell a story in the style of Samuel Beckett or simple industrial noise, that is the sort of storytelling we like nowadays. Details are in bad taste, they expose our infection. Just before becoming infected we invented anthropology to house our details. This science of man, which is always about other people, whose details are exotic, calms us and opens out the further possibility of anthropologizing ourselves. Hence modern love. Well enlightenment is useless but I find interesting the distinction anthropologists make between an emic and an etic point of view. (223)
It is easier to tell a story of how people wound one another than of what binds them together. Be careful of this storyteller's tendency to replace precise separate lines with fast daubs of ink. I know how to fool your mind so that your eye accepts what it did not see. A curtain of  wash is not a desert. Where ink bleeds into paper is not an act of love, and yet it is. See.
Now, by definition, we've classified this well into the territory of poetry. Carson is clearly fighting narrative. She's clearly making light of the idea of the story. But there are issues with definitions, any and all. First of all, Carson often writes narrative-ly with line breaks (voila! The Autobiography of Red, which although floating around, has a fairly linear plot and thus strong narrative in that fashion). So I haven't worked all the kinks out yet. But the other issue is resolved: namely what about narrative breaking prose? Well, it's poetry.

Li-Young Lee pointed out As I Lay Dying (I think; Faulkner anyway) and Moby Dick as being books he read as poetry. I would point to novels like Democracy and Miss Wyoming. Ultimately, these questions are to be discussed personally. We can debate them, but I'm not going to change your mind and I shouldn't. The whole hierarchy is self-created to influence myself in the right direction: so for me the aim now is killing the narrative, putting herbicide to the tree of plot. Because that's really, really prevalent in my work and it shouldn't be.

But of course I've cheated. When I post the stories here that I wrote last semester, you're going to read them and say, well here's the plot; here's the narrative. I'm just trying to get myself distrustful of narratives, like any good anthropologist or even political scientist--distrust the Grand Narrative forced on you. Even if that narrative is narrative.

Have I devolved enough to lose you in this post? That wasn't the point but you can believe more or not. Now I'm going to finish Plainwater, because I'm not going to lie to you, I have a good 10? pages left. And then bed. Probably dreaming I wrote this. Or rather writing this dream. Or wait--

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