April 15, 2014KR BlogBlogEnthusiams

Award-Giving (3)

Spring seems to be happening in real-time out my window, though I’ve been making my friends stare at Selfeed instead. It offers “real-time updates of the #selfie tag on Instagram” and is dizzying, mundane, at once horrifying and heartening in its effects on attention. Watch it for a while, and you might feel an astral shimmer of identification with the bundles of consciousness projected through your screen: here is someone, and another someone, and now another, whose mind you can inhabit for a flash, knowing what they just did (snap a selfie) and thought (“now I will tag it #selfie”). Each person then turns, wherever they are, and is in a landscape, and is one. And each, we know, is in some way dying. Hello, person!

It happens too fast to report precisely. “Half-face in glasses…torn jeans on subway…low-angle, tattoo, mountains.” So you need to submit to time, or risk becoming as exhausted as Georges Perec seems at moments in An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris, his real-time catalog of the “infraordinary” in Place Saint-Sulpice, written in October 1974. In trying to catch everything, his language starts to refer indistinctly, some phrases functioning like the holes which lend fluidity to a net. In this passage from the book’s second chapter, for example, one is aware that the two “satchels” are not the same satchel, that each bus, even those that share a number, are more distinct than Perec’s phrasing:

A 70 passes by.

The funeral chimes stop.

A young girl is eating a palmier.

A man with a pipe and black satchel.

A 70 passes by

A 63 passes by

It is five after two.

An 87 passes by.

People, in waves, still, continually

A priest returning from a trip (there is an airline label hanging from his satchel).

A child slides a toy car along the windowpane of the café (slight noise)

In these intimations of Abyss within particularity, Perec’s book ends up foregrounding consciousness, not particulars, much as meditating on Selfeed does; one could imagine this mesmerizing real-time map of winds in the US overlaid onto each work, swirling behind the selfies, between Perec’s pages. That is, in attempting to transmit shared particulars—a face, a street—such works can instead induce the shared atmospheric substructures of the ways in which our minds both keep and keep up with time.

In honor of the release of my newest book of poetry and the atmospheric systems that obliquely swirl around its existence in real time, I’m glad to present the penultimate batch of Century Swept Brutal / Black Ocean Awards in Excellence to two authors and a place: Danielle Dutton (and Dorothy, a publishing project), Elizabeth Robinson, and Iowa’s Sutliff Bridge. Today’s awardees join the Olympia Film Society, the Richard Hugo House, Open Books, Frank Sherlock, Flying Object, and HAWN in receiving a copy of the book, a certificate, and who knows what else.

Danielle Dutton (and Dorothy, a publishing project)

It’d be easy to praise Danielle Dutton’s writing by contrasting it with less inventive contemporary fiction. Fiction in which the writer doesn’t understand that inept similes snag in one’s minds (“his tongue moved quickly in her mouth, like the little men on a foosball table”). In which characters are dutifully described from haircut to shoe laces, as though when we meet somebody, we do a full TSA scan. In which the author’s primary ambition seems to be shallow acclaim (in many cases, to evaluate fiction by its success in current publishing is like evaluating a giraffe by whether it’s a shoe). That is, fiction that is sure to disappoint a poet.

Dutton’s writing doesn’t, though it’d be better to praise it for what it is. Permit me blurb? How about: In the portraits, tales, and figments of autobiography in Attempts at a Life (Tarpaulin Sky, 2007), in the poignant farce and onrushing suburban lyricism of her novel Sprawl (Siglio, 2010), Danielle Dutton shows that precision can be giddily disorienting, that the voices we are made of soar in and out of narrative, and that’s the real story.

Here’s a passage from Sprawl:

“It’s bewildering, the way faces pass in and out of my line of vision as I sit in the car and wait for the light to turn green. This place tends to take on a benevolent glow when birds peck at the grass in front of the gas station on the corner. I turn left, then right, then left again, right, left, and then I go straight for quite some time, and then I take a right, another left, a right, and then I’m home: driveway, garage, linoleum, a flight of stairs, a river leading west, south, south-east, east. It’s so old-fashioned, a memory, unimportant events. Lisle and I once heard a branch fall to the ground.”

Dutton is the editor of Dorothy, a publishing project, a press “dedicated to works of fiction or near fiction or about fiction, mostly by women.” The press seeks “to publish books that, whether conventional or un-, are uniquely themselves, that do not lean against preconceived ideas of what is wonderful, but brilliantly and purposefully convince us that they are, themselves, wonderful.” Dorothy is among my favorite publishers of current prose; I’m eager to see what they publish next. (You can read a review of two of their recent books, both by Renee Gladman, by Elaine Bleakney in KROnline.)

Lines from Century Swept Brutal I dedicate to Danielle Dutton: “The backseat was covered with Gatorades and finished word searches. The car’s roof was stained in a blur, like from mulch.”

Elizabeth Robinson

I admired Elizabeth Robinson’s poetry long before she selected my chapbook, The Man Who Lost His Head, for Omnidawn’s 2010 Chapbook Poetry Prize. I remember, for instance, my delight upon reading the first line in 2001’s Harrow: “I know the way the funnel works.” The poem is called “Apollo”; I saw the gyre of Bernini’s statue, heard the tone—matter-of-fact, defiant—and went on to read of “the rape buried in the hill and its lateness,” of how “a god’s body formed in the translation, viscous aftereffect of speaking.” Could a poem be such a funnel, a formation. Such an aftereffect. In which varied phrases wreathe. Those were the thoughts I had, first reading “Apollo.”

In the interest of real time, I’ll reveal that I’ve just spent an hour reading around in a half dozen books by Robinson. 2012’s Counterpart, 2006’s Under That Silky Roof. Having blurbed a bit above, let me resist the reviewer’s instinct—to summarize, to make a case. Any case I’d make would just be an excuse to quote, a la: “And here, then, the peculiar / indirection / A simple cry / or / relative wilderness.”

For the here, the then, the peculiar, the indirection, the simple (and unsimple) cries, the or, the relative, the wilderness, the relative wilderness of Elizabeth Robinson’s work, for all the years of it and in it: this award.

Lines from Century Swept Brutal I dedicate to Elizabeth Robinson: “Tapestry showed /a hive / D’s garden was / lilacs and / enough air / dusk in its white gloves”

Sutliff Bridge and Tavern 

Before the Sutliff Bridge was partially washed away in June 2008, you could drive there from Iowa City on a spring afternoon and walk across the Cedar River on the historic structure (built in 1897). The bar on one side sold fried cauliflower, beer you could have in the sun. Bikers liked it. Horse trails, tall grass. All the world’s water below, in its own time. You might drive there now through nascent, animate tiger lilies and think of Rome’s Ponte Rotto, of time’s big flipbook giving up its platelets, of an April I sat there with anyone, on what is now exactly the invisible part. The bar’s still there, and something of those afternoons, I hope, is in my book.

Lines from Century Swept Brutal I dedicate to the Sutliff Bridge: “so the nets / drying in trees / occasionally have olives in them in the morning”

You can read the first two pieces in this series here and here.