Monday, March 21, 2005

Beginning the long run-up to Vancouver and AWP this week. I am finishing the little paper I'll be giving as part of the "New Nature Writing" panel that Bin Ramke, Richard Greenfield, Sally Keith, Karen L. Anderson, Jonathan Skinner, and myself are doing on Thursday, March 31 at 1:30 PM in the Hyatt Regency Plaza "B," 2nd floor. Got all that? My essay has the blandly overambitious title "The Nature of Writing" right now; at the moment it resembles a cage match between Mary Oliver and Louis Zukofsky. Guess who wins? I also have this other piece I'm fooling around with, "Theses on Pastoral," which would perhaps be more fun but I'm not sure how to finish it. It would have the virtue of brevity.

In preparation for thinking about both nature and Canada, I'm getting a lot of pleasure out of Christopher Dewdney's book The Natural History, an often erotic meditation on a world-landscape that ranges from Ontario to Brazil and from paleolithic times to the present day. If D.H. Lawrence moved to Toronto, earned a degree in paleontology, and wrote a history of sex (in the broadest possible terms), it might look like this:
Wooden alveoli erect and fragile
in the rarefied air of October, leaves
frosted-glass, rock chapel orange and red.
The sky no longer enclosing us. The sound
of a distant airplane blossoming into clarity
and not enclosed. Eels pulled from
the canal. Even the planets are motile,
hoary with diamonds above the chiming
sunset. She wims alone and naked
in a clear October lake. A white building
stands free and O the spirits looks dimly
out from there.
It's a noun-heavy poetry, approaching the problem of nouns from the opposite direction Stein chose: Dewdney's vocabulary is estranging in its accuracy, its deployment of unfamiliar, often scientific terms (or as he himself says, "Linnaeus a certain key"). (Stein defamiliarizes through deliberate vagueness, slippage of shifters, repetition, until we are half persuaded she is providing us with a record of the numinous, or at least of consciousness.) I'm becoming very interested in Canadian poetry generally: their mainstream seems much more alive to linguistic play and possibility than ours, if the little work I've seen (by Dewdney, Anne Carson, Lisa Robertson, Erin Moure, Steve McCaffrey) is any evidence. Vancouver should be a good opportunity to see and acquire a bit more of it.

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