Monday, June 22, 2009

Innocence and Experience - Dreams and the Telling Thereof

I enjoyed Adam Fieled's post about Dreams in which he looks at poems by Max Jacob (French Prose poet and friend of Picasso writing mostly between the wars) and Anne Boyer.

((--Adam's post caught my attention because dreams and how you tell them (or make them) are really on my mind right now. I'm in the final revision stages of a chapbook entitled "Dreaming" which will release from Scantily Clad Press in the next month or two--))

Anyways, here are the two poems Adam's talking about:

Max Jacobs - 1914

Doesn't lightning look the same to a foreigner? Someone who was at my parents' home was commenting on the color of the sky. Was that lightning? It was a pink cloud moving toward us. How everything changed! My God! Can it be your reality is so vibrant? The family home is there: the chestnut trees at the window, the prefecture right up against the chestnut trees, and Mt. Frugy right up against the prefecture, only its summit visible. A voice called out "God!" And there was light in the darkness. A huge body hid most of the landscape. Was it Him? Or Job? He was poor; his pierced flesh was showing, thighs covered by a scrap of cloth: what tears O Lord! he descended...How? Then couples larger than life descended too. They came from the air encased, in Easter eggs: they laughed and the balcony of our family home was littered with black threads like gunpowder. We were frightened. The couples set themselves up in our house while we watched through a window. For they were evil. There were even black threads on the dining room table where my brothers were taking apart Lebel cartridges. Since then, I've been watched by the police.

Anne Boyers (untitled I guess)

Fairly clear the end of the world had come or the end of the world as we understood it had come or the end of the world of humans in a civilization had come and this end had come through some water-borne contagion or at least a backed-up broken-down water and sewage system.

Knowing all this, we went to a large clean building in the middle of a city for an ART SHOW. This building was a hotel or convention center and on the fifth floor or so a woman who may or may not have been Kiki Smith had organized the ART SHOW before it was clear that the world was at its end. Many people at the show were vacuous or self-absorbed or on drugs or whatever so that they did not know it was the end or did not pay the end much notice. Very pale, thin, and glamorous people who were part of the art installations strode in threes naked or half naked and the other half cloaked in fur. Even at the end of the world I was envious of their beauty and furs and paleness. And in one room, there showed an ART FILM. This film was about WHAT YOU COULD BUY to prove you had been at the ART SHOW.

At that time three backpackers entered the room with backpacks. These backpackers knew it was the end of the world: they had put all their things in backpacks and decided to take off, to travel, as it was the end of the world and staying put, i.e. STAYING AS NORMAL, would only mean the end. Other people noticed the backpackers and maybe started waking up to the seriousness of the event of the end of the world, and fearing a panic, my companions and I decided to leave the ART SHOW and take the elevator to the top of the building.

We stepped in the elevator. I started to worry the sewage-contagion problem would damage the power grid. Would we be stuck on the elevator for all of time? Would we die on the elevator we took to escape the ART SHOW? My companions tried to calm me, to tell me "It is too early in the process for the power to go out," but I could smell the stink and contagion, and asked to what purpose is going to the roof of the building of the ART SHOW.

I said- Shouldn't we be doing something other than going to the top of the building at the end of the world?

These dreams are certainly different. And the ways of telling them are different too. Adam claims that the Jacob poem has an "edge of innocence" while Boyers' has an "edge of experience."

(note: Boyers' poem, Fieled maintains, has "more gravitas" because it engages in satire, tackling "real-world issues directly." Okay. Sure. Why not?)

But, I'm not sure I understand exactly what Adam means by edges of innocence and experience. For me the difference in the poems seems to be a matter of detachment or immersion (inside the dream or outside of the dream - a matter of whether you're lost in the moment or not). And perhaps that's a kind of innocence and experience.

Let me clarify (thinking this through as I go I guess):

Jacob's writing embodies emotion. Is drenched with it. His speaker is feeling deeply. Is not watching himself. Is not detached.

Boyers' speaker is detached. Reports on her emotions like she's another person:

"I was envious of their beauty"....."and fearing a panic"...."and asked to what purpose...."

The words for the emotions are there (envy and fear) but the emotions are not really embodied in the writing. But with Jacobs they are. His speaker is lost in the dream. And lost in the telling of it. And the writing surges with that same sort of energy. Is charged with it.

Boyers' speaker is detached, it seems, inside the dream and outside of it. And so the telling, in her case, is flat. (and both these ways feel valid enough to me. I've dreamed flat. And I've dreamed surging. And, regardless, one can certainly invert the truth in the telling...)

Perhaps to be caught up (lost) in emotion is to be "innocent" and, conversely, to be detached and almost 3rd-person in the telling, is to be "experienced." If so then I guess Adam and I are kind of on the same page with Innocence and Experience.

Adam also says that "Jacob uses an edge of whimsy, that brings out a kind of comedy in the darkness." Again, Adam and I are kind of on the same page. Jacobs is often whimsical and comical. But just as much he is deadly serious. The comedy is a bit of veil or icing. So, I like that Adam said "a kind of comedy."

The Jacobs poem certainly does has something of the ridiculous or hysterical about it:

Our family was littered with black threads like gunpowder. We were frightened. The couples set themselves up in our house while we watched through a window. For they were evil. There were even black threads on the dining room table where my brothers were taking apart Lebel cartridges.

I'll end this post with some trite uncle-ish advice:

Writing poems about dreams (real or invented) is tricky.

Like anything, of course, it's all in the telling.

Actually it's not all in the telling. The dream needs to be interesting. Compelling. Blah, blah, blah.....

Everything's a new opportunity to lie.


Ross Brighton said...

"everything's a new opportunity to lie". Beautiful. I've given up on Adam's posts, to be honest. I don't get them, ask him what he means, and he tells me I don't get them.


Maybe I should give up and keep lying, like tell people that I'm made of laminated sheets cut from the carcass of a gorgon. or something.

Agnes said...

Stephen King wrote "humor and horror lie side by side, and that to deny one is to deny the other." I think that's true.

I didn't like the "form" of either piece. Content-wise, of the two, I probably enjoyed reading Jacob's piece most. It's colorful. Alive. There's stuff to see. I didn't feel like slitting my own throat out of frustration at the lack of momentum. ::grin::

The best and most poetic sentence in Boyer's piece is "Even at the end of the world I was envious of their beauty and furs and paleness." The rest wasn't very interesting as far as language goes. Just blah. Nothing really grabbed me. Everything was white, if you know what I mean. I had to force myself to read the whole thing--hoping for something more, I guess. A splash of color? Maybe color the stink black? The backpacks red? I was almost welcoming the end of the world by the end of the piece. Perhaps that was her intent. I don't know. If it was, then she did a pretty good job. Gravitas? Yeah. Laugh-out-loud-funny? Nah. Most memorable? Probably.

As far as edges, neither of these pieces are anywhere near as sharp as the Ron Silliman Dreams. That's edge. I'm still bleeding. Kudos.

Rauan Klassnik said...

thanks for commenting, and glad you liked the Silliman dreams....

i think the lack of "color" in Boyers' piece is due to the detachment she's employing and i think she's doing that to replicate the kind of detached 3rd person feel dreams tend to have,....