Unreal Nature

July 30, 2009

Between Weapon and Tremor

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:22 am

… I’ve tried to grasp some fundamentals of excruciation, but unless I’m sundered myself, I won’t understand.

This is all taken from the essay A Descant on “Echo Location” by Alice Fulton in the book Introspections: American Poets on One of Their Own Poems edited by Robert Pack and Jay Parini. You can find the last part of the poem she is taling about in a previous post of mine, here.

At the start, the poem’s speaker is making a life mask of a model. There’s an element of sadism in the dominion of maker over creation, in saying to a pet theme, “Be still, so I can have my way with you.” Artists want to — have to — impose stasis on what-gives. Rather than letting the world thrash through them, they whip up their own versions of things. While artists have the power to expose and express, their objects are shuttered in the hush of various covers, unable to ward off attentions, however unwanted. When I delve into the external, ripping the surface, unfolding wings sticky with mucilage, prying those wings right off, if need be, to reach the pith and mechanism, am I motivated by a wish to comprehend or a wish to control? In reimagining others, I demolish some volatile aspect of their beings. I freeze-frame the breathing object, selecting form from the infinite strands of flux.

… maybe it was the arrows of medieval epics. Maybe it was the necessity of trembling. Somehow “quiver” became an entrancing word for me. In stanza six, a “quiver” inscribes the other with “thine,” rather than the possessive “mine” of stanza two. “Thine,” a willing concession of self, bespeaks reciprocity. In the sixth grade, we learned to diagram sentences. The prepositional phrases plunged like roots from the flat of syntax, and I understood a little of how English works. But where is the subject, where is the object, in the shrieks of mating cats or a dying rabbit’s cry? Working the external into words, I’d like to honor those emotive languages beyond grammar, outpourings so pure and heartfelt they would by lyrical were they not unlovely. As a verb, “quiver” signals crisis in the body. As a noun, it’s a vibrato, an arrow, and a case for arrows. From a small action, pulling and releasing the bowstring, come tremendous effects: death, mutilation. Like most poets, I’ve tried to grasp some fundamentals of excruciation, but unless I’m sundered myself, I won’t understand. I must be the echo of what I dissect. So quiver, oscillating between weapon and tremor, tells me.

She leaves out the uncertainty about how one knows where this “sundering” begins and where it ends. Why it matters to one person; to many people — or not.



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