The type of writing often called “experimental” is especially good at accessing personal crisis.Why this is, I’m not sure. What I’ve heard from some people is that they don’t know what to do with these poets usually, that they can’t figure out what they’re writing about, what the necessary moment is.
I’m talking about books like Mary Jo Bang’s Elegy and Rae Armantrout’s Next Life.These are books that place their question, the artistic question, out front in a way that some people say their other books don’t.This allows people who wouldn’t usually be drawn to the work of these poets a “way in.”Once in, the “experimental” nature of their poetry, the fragments, ellipses, and all, are seen not as exclusionary or off-putting as they had been called in the past, but, rather, helpful, meaning-laden.
It’s an interesting question about what and how the poet frames the art, and how this framing is then perceived.What’s especially interesting to me is that neither Bang nor Armantrout actually changed their art, or the way they make it.It’s just that this content, this subject matter, more people can hold onto.
I’m thinking about this as I’m reading Rusty Morrison’s excellent After Urgency.It’s also a book of a person in crisis, a book on mourning, beautifully rendered.
Here are a couple poems:
from Nowhere to say “daughter”
“My father and mother,” I say.As if words were a promontory.
What is it that I want to see from them?How far down,
to the end of memory?
I will bury two urns of ashes.But not to distinguish gods
from objects, objects from gods.
The answerer, who stands behind my grief, signals archly.
A linen to morning’s lingering, which I hasten to call morning light.
As the bundled grays
of gravel gather to become nothing more than pure distance
ahead of me on the road.
What disrupts even the most obstinately ordinal; fallen twigs
on the earth nearly but never re-fashion themselves
into what was once an abandoned nest.
Small opossum carcass at roadside.
Too simple to call that death—a something more solid than flesh.
Today, the tinsel flicker of saying anyone’s name aloud cuts
quick and sharp.
How long before I achieve the calloused fingers that can strum
the saying dexterously.
There is no end to waiting, no mind outside the mind
traveling its gravel path, stroking its strewn flowers,
startled by even a seabird’s wing-extended shadow,
in deepest quiet a thrumming like bare feet running up
wooden stairs, a dark odor as though the clouds were
pouring smoke, tree branches sprouting rag-cloth,
the sky a whitewashed plaster that fractures and falls away
under a finger’s touch, and there is no end to tossing