Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Finishing the Hat

Sometime in March 2009 I began, on a lark, to write pages of prose in the half-hour or so of consciousness that remained to me before bed after a busy day of teaching and grading and parenting a toddler. Pages accumulated; characters appeared; a semblance of plot ground into action. Images clung to me when I wasn't writing that asked for articulation: a castle overlooking the Mediterranean, the shoulders hat and head of a man seen from behind, dragging a wheeled suitcase over cobblestones; a policeman rearing on his horse like a black knight on the streets of Paris.

I kept at it, sidewise, sneaking up on the project, trying not to take it too seriously, keeping faith with what I was doing as an extension rather than departure from poetry, as a project essentially rhetorical, a game with-in language. But story! Story, once it gets going, is irresistible.
Mapping out a sky
What you feel like, planning out a sky....
Sometimes I wrote on the computer; for a whole summer I wrote in notebooks, filling two of them with material, much of which I eventually discarded. Meantime my life in poetry marched on. Severance Songs came out. I did readings here and there; I devoted my summer to Robert Duncan and only belatedly, sometime in late September, turned myself full time toward this project. Now that my semester's sabbatical is almost over, I am preparing to teach again, with an orientation toward poetry. But I have entered an undiscovered country.

On November 30, 2011 I finished my novel, much to my own surprise; I had thought I would need every moment right up until I began teaching again in January. Finished the draft, I should say; I am now revising, reordering, the many discrete pages and parts that magnetically attract each other and form the shape of an organism that the genre novel is loose enough to hold together. What I am wishing for most at this moment is the right sort of first reader. Someone who will understand that I came at this project as a poet and remain a poet. Someone who will challenge me, in fact, to bring out what is most poetic about the novel, and not to advise me how to smooth away its rough edges and make it more conventional, as I fear most readers would not be able to help doing at this stage. Undiscovered country.
Studying a face,
Stepping back to look at a face
Leaves a little space in the way like a window,
But to see—
It's the only way to see.
But it probably falls to me to be that reader, in the spirit in which I began this project: to please myself. With the insane faith that what moves and entertains me will move and entertain others.
They have never understood,
And no reason that they should.
A last note: December 21, 2011 shall be the twentieth anniversary of my mother's death. This novel, then, constitutes, like so much of my writing, a milestone in the neverending work of mourning that began on that day, in 1991, when I was twenty-one years old.
Mapping out the sky,
Finishing a hat...
Starting on a hat..
Finishing a hat...
It's only a hat. A purely conjectural garment made of words, not even so much as an image. A hat for my mother. Let her not go bare-headed beneath the sun of death.
Look, I made a hat...
Where there never was a hat
A wild sort of hope for the page and for art and my M. The letter of the law, that tells it again. My story.

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