March 20, 2015KR BlogBlogReadingWriting


(Part 1 of 2 on the fragment)

“…a sense of the parallel between our always fragmentary knowledge and the continual progress toward perfect understanding that never withers away.” –Susan Howe, Souls of the Labadie Tract

I want to talk about the fragment in just a few of its many forms. Susan Howe has written much on the subject, and often, fragments are her manner of making poems, as she dismantles the diaries and letters of the dead to press a new voice, of self and other, spun. Howe’s poems speak from a beyond that’s been reinvented in a present, call it (she does), telepathy. This kind of telepathy operates outside the boundaries of time. In archive collections, in drafty libraries, the crucial phrases are sniffed out with white gloves; they are felt as by a heart floating above the operating table. The poet collages a present sense out of a variety of voices, captured in inks whose shades vary on a blue-black-sepia spectrum, evidence of other centuries. Subjects range from the ordinary to the profound: God, or longing or what type of tea was served on a balcony one summer in Vienna, all may slip their hands into the poet’s and walk out newly onto the page.

“Things-in-themselves and things-as-they-are-for-us,” Howe writes, in her recent Spontaneous Particulars: The Telepathy of Archives. “Often by chance, via out-of-the-way card catalogues, or through previous web surfing, a particular ‘deep’ text, or a simple object (bobbin, sampler, scrap of lace) reveals itself here at the surface of the visible, by mystic documentary telepathy. Quickly—precariously—coming as it does from an opposite direction.”

I love Howe’s articulation here, undoubtedly, in part, because I make most of my work from a similar premise of chance or miracles. One object of many that has come into my own life “from an opposite direction,” mildly-wildly shifting its course, is a pencil found on the sidewalk, sharpened to a fragment of text that spells “TO BE SOMEBODY,” against psychedelic rainbow. It’s a fragment electrified with known and unknown histories that has inspired a whole mess of work. It arrived through the wires bearing a crucial message, and I did my best to interpret.

I think there is probably a sense of telepathy that occurs in all our paths toward personal meaning, if we choose to turn it on. Awake to “the surface of the visible,” we are magnetized toward objects and relics, phrases and words, that have something to offer our visions constantly unfurling, our narrative paths that we map, even as we are mapped. The writers, artists and record-keepers among us arrive at a communion in forms: we versify, paint and note, palimpsests of present and past. An historical fragment, whose derivation may be near or distant, text or tangible, helps to complete the things we make which make our lives. This making is the product of trust or intuition, feeling for what we know is there, even if we have yet to discern its many fragmented forms. Or as Howe writes, “To reach is to touch.” Sometimes the reaching is as real as—is—the making.