February 21st, 2006


on trimmings

O rose so drowsy in
my flower bed your pink
pajamas zig-zag into
fluent dreams of living ink

An Interview with Harryette Mullen

Trimmings was in part a reflection on the marginality of women and of "the feminine" in language. (As well as a reflection on the feminization and marginalization of poetry, and certainly my own marginality as a black woman in relation to the dominant cultural construction of the feminine.) It is a "minor" genre, the prose poem. It's also a list poem which I thought of as a form congenial to women, who are always making lists. Of course, the catalogues (of heroes, ships, and so forth) in epic poems evoke a masculine tradition, not to mention David Letterman's lists. However, a whole poem composed of a list of women's garments, undergarments, & accessories certainly seems marginal & minor, perhaps even frivolous & trivial. Actually it was an inside joke for me to begin Trimmings with "a belt" since a convention of epic poetry is to begin "in the middle." So that joke I was having with myself was about the epic poem versus the little list poem, which has become a workshop cliche: in this case a list of feminine apparel.

Writing the poem also involved a process of making lists. First, I made a list of words referring to anything worn by women. Each word on that list became the topic of a prose poem (I started with clothing, then decided to include accessories. There were a few things I decided not to write about, such as wigs, dentures, and so forth.) Then I made more lists by free associating from words on the first list. I generated lists of words that might be synonyms (pants/jeans/slacks/ britches), homonyms (duds/duds, skirt/skirt), puns or homophones (furbelow, suede/swayed), or that had some metaphorical, metonymical, or rhyming connection (blouse/dart/sleeve/heart, pearl/mother, flapper/shimmy/chemise), or words that were on the same page of the dictionary (chemise/chemist). I would improvise a possible sequence of words, seeing what the lists might suggest in the way of a minimal narrative, a metaphor, an association, or pun.

Each prose poem is a unit of the "long poem" that is itself a list, with each item described figuratively, as in true riddles. I also quickly understood that the structure of the poem was like a hologram. Each prose poem basically does the same thing as all the rest, since whatever the trope, it is the woman's body that appears consistently in every figure as the tenor of which clothing is the vehicle. This simply extends and elaborates a metonymical tendency already present in everyday usage: "skirt" and "petticoat" also commonly refer to women as well as to clothing worn by women. I also borrow or recycle language and/or syntactical structures from a variety of folk and mass culture genres, including: riddle, nursery rhyme, fairy tale, prayer, television commercial, cliche, tabloid headline, and weather report, as well as from specifically African-American forms including the blues and the dozens.
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My paternal grandmother was an accomplished quilter. One of my treasures is a quilt she made, using the "cathedral window" pattern, which resembles a stained glass window. The list poems, Trimmings and S*PeRM**K*T, as well as the stanza form of Muse & Drudge, allowed me to make a kind of long poem composed of discreet units, so that in effect, I could write brief manageable poems that were parts of a longer work that was the book-length poem. The discreet units, stanzas or paragraphs, form various patterns like the pieces of a quilt. I could start anywhere, proceed in no particular order, writing whenever I had the chance and the energy. With my wardrobe and supermarket lists, my tidy prose paragraphs, my quatrains of blues songs and jumprope rhymes composed of recycled representations of black women, I could continually end and begin, without feeling the trauma of endings, the fear and uncertainty of beginnings. My own consolation in the face of rupture, a writing through the gaps and silences.

{Womanhouse} {English language poets} {Performance poetry} {Guggenheim Fellowships} {Harryette Mullen} {Interview} {Furious Flower} {Furious Flower II} {Author} {wipe that smile off your aphasia}



line of vision

there is nothing in this world that does not have a decisive moment
Entre Vues : Frank Horvat - Marc Riboud

Marc Riboud : I must tell you that I don't really feel in the autumn of my life, in fact I'm in better shape than twenty years ago. The two most important days in my career were the one I entered Magnum and the one I left. Since I have been independent, I have more time for photography, while still being open to other influences. I don't know if my personality has changed, but I believe that I have found a better way of expressing itself. I more often experience those moments of grace, when your eyes see with a multiplied intensity, when you discover what you wouldn't have even noticed at other times and what other people don't notice, when the beauty of a face makes you tremble with emotion. That's another aspect of photography : knowing how to recognize those moments, how to get back to that line of vision that Henri Cartier-Bresson so rightly talks about.

Frank Horvat : So you would say that the "line of vision" is something inside us, that we somehow project onto reality. And the decisive moment is when this line hits the target.

Marc Riboud : The line of vision, when it comes down to it, is our dreaming. We should relearn to see as we did in our childhood, with the same pleasure in discovery, the same surprise at everything around us. But this dreaming must be performed with strictness. Dreaming and strictness are not in contradiction, they are but different aspects of the same activity. As with music : no other form of expression is constructed with such mathematical precision, and yet it grips our senses and our guts. Technique and sensitivity go together, one cannot exist without the other

Frank Horvat : Or rather: when one exists without the other, it's not art. Henri said : "Place your eye, your head and your heart into the same line of vision". You say : "Aim at reality, through the eyes of a child, with the strictness of a technique". Is it the same metaphor?

Marc Riboud : Let's keep down to earth. What was I doing yesterday, with my Leica, in front of the pyramid that is being built at the Louvre? I was searching for the right composition, for the right balance within the rectangle of my viewfinder, for some order among these thousands of oblique metallic elements, pointing into many directions, changing with every step I took and with every adjustment by the workers. For me, this search was a visual and sensual pleasure. From time to time, the forms would fit with my conscious or subconscious parameters, like an echo between myself and the subject matter. The target of our line of sight is reality - but our framing can transform it into a dream.

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