September 30, 2014KR BlogEnthusiamsReading

The Breaking of Jimbo: Some Thoughts on the Kathy Fagan poem “Road Memorial.” Part 2

In Part 1, I dreamed an account of events that would culminate in the arrival to my intro creative writing class of the poet Kathy Fagan. Part 1 itself ended with a reproduction of Fagan’s poem “Road Memorial,” a work first published in the Kenyon Review and which I’d assigned. In the poem, several lines enjamb with broken end-words. One of those broken words is the name Jimbo. That’s how the title of this post came about. In the poem, it looks like this: Jim- / bo. The other words that break are mid-lim- / bo, Simple- / ton, some- / one, and, near the end, com- / fort.

I’d intended here to continue the dream-story, to sit Fagan down before my students and let them demand she account for her poems. Poets, several of my students had expressed in less salty language, seemed, sometimes, to be fucking with their readers. Why, they’d asked politely, couldn’t poets just say what they had to say? A jar in Tennessee? Your other heart? Why, poet, fuck with me? The previous week, the fine narrative poet Marcus Jackson visited the class. He fucked with no one. The students loved him: he’s self-deprecating, funny, smart, truthful. And they loved, as they should have, his poems, which tell stories in real time. Fagan’s poems, on the other hand, not so much. I’d assigned five of them, none of which we’d talked about yet.

So I had the makings of what I thought would be a strong blog post: a lyric poet dropped into an enclosed, inorganic space, forced to defend herself against a pack of story-demanding jackals.

Right after I put the kids to sleep, just a few minutes ago, in fact, I checked the voice memo ap on my phone. I wanted to see if I’d already dream-written the scene. I’d recorded myself yesterday morning, immediately after waking, recounting the dream-narrative that became Part 1. I’d recorded it in the basement, where I’d gone to see if I’d had the foresight the night before to transfer my clothes from the washer to the dryer. I’m terrible at laundry. Even in the high heat of summer I’m liable to leave a clean load in the washer two, three, four days, until it takes a gallon bottle of vinegar and three or four re-washings to remove the mildew smell. On one of my first dates with her, at the Coin Laundry Express in Nashville, my current companion, panic-stricken, snatched a Clorox jug from my hand as I was pouring the last drops of it into a washer full of colors. That’s why—because I was in the basement because I can’t handle my laundry—my voice sounds so hollow on the recording.

Here’s the full transcription:

Early this morning, a few moments before the alarm went off, at about 6:30, I started writing this post. This is what I remember starting it as: A few months ago, about a year ago, the poet Kathy Fagan asked if I wanted any of her books. She said she was cleaning out her office. Several months later, I hadn’t received any of the books. And I asked her if I could have the books. And she said the College was getting her a new floor. So anyway, all her books were outside in the hallway. And I started wondering why no one took the books and why it was okay to just put the books out in the hallway. And then I remember talking to my colleague Eddie Singleton about knowing—whoa! I gotta check to see if my thing is still going. There it is—um, knowing that one of the great pleasures in life is knowing, and this is sort of selfish, but knowing that no matter what happens in life with books and publishing, etc, we are old enough now that books will still exist by the time we die and they’ll still be fairly plentiful. And they’ll always be enough books; we’ll never read our way through all the books that exist now. So that brings us comfort. But after several months, I never got the books from Kathy, Fagan, the poet, who I call Faga—I don’t know what to call her now because she got married. I don’t know what to call her in print. So her name is Kathy Fagan-Grandinetti but her poet name is Kathy Fagan. But I usually just call her, like, Professor, Doctor, Generalissimo. Anyway, so then I came downstairs and I was trying to keep in my head what I wanted to write for this blog post and, but I had to do other things, so I’m making coffee, trying to keep it in my mind what I’m supposed to be writing, or what I am writing, because I had it memorized. One time, I remember thinking that I had written a symphony, but that turned out to be a radio. But I still remember the, like in my head I still remember the, uh, hear the actual song. So sometimes I have this thing where I, you know, as writers do, of composing sentences in my head while I’m asleep, or half asleep, or waking up. But then, you know, like a lot of stuff with dreams, you forget the actual—what it actually is. So I was trying to remember, sentence by sentence, line by line, what it was that I was writing. But then I came down and there’s stuff I have to do in the morning. So then I start thinking, when am I going to get to a computer, when can I write this stuff down. So I got out my voice memo and I was downstairs putting laundry in. And the voice memo thing is good but I couldn’t remember. I started feeling a little bit of pressure to remember exactly what I, uh, wanted to write about. But then I remembered, so I was gonna write about a certain book which finally I got from the poet Kathy Fagan. And it was the Hillary Mantel book, the Mantel book, and then it was gonna lead into Kathy Fagan being in my class and talking about her relationship with words and the breaking of words in a poem about breaking. And then I was gonna talk about, ah, the kids’ reactions to that, when we talked about it after she left, and her relationship to words after, you know, 40 years of writing poems. And what that might mean. Etc., etc. So that’s the end of this.

*****

The Generalissimo, facing down the jackals, said, when asked what she’d have been if not a poet, “Nothing. Nothing I can think of.”

About poems making sense, she said, roughly, that there’s lots of ways to make sense and that poetry may resemble painting or sculpture or music more than it resembles prose and why, anyway, is making sense so fucking important? She may not have said fucking.

Of Jimbo and his breaking, the poet said very quietly that in a poem about breaking it’s probably appropriate that things get broken, even people, even words.

If this were the end of an upbeat newspaper profile, I’d finish with: And that, to everyone in the room, made perfect sense.

Recounting the dream:

The class reading “Ontology and the Platypus”: