Last night, a dream of a tornado that touched down through the center of me.
Yesterday was the official first day of classes, but today was the first class for me this semester. My first year here, I wanted to take Printing I in the Book Arts program, but I didn’t yet know how to be persistent, and I never did. So I’m taking it now, in my last year at Alabama. This morning, the instructor talked to us about the history of type and fonts, and we all chatted a little about our experiences with fonts. I don’t have any experience with letterpress printing, so my own experiences are limited to my involvement with lit journals, and personal font choices for writing and submitting. A lot of the slides were familiar to me, though, because of my art history background, especially in manuscript illumination.
One of the slides showed the Phoenician alphabet, in a format similar to this:
That might even be the exact image. The point is, the names and shapes of these letters are closely related to the Hebrew alphabet, and I sat there reading them to myself and feeling a weird sense of belonging and I teared up a little. I don’t think, or I hope, anyone noticed.
I have some vague memories of learning how to write in English, but for me, learning Hebrew was a formative experience in terms of thinking about text and meaning. I had to practice so carefully how to make the right kind of curve, to distinguish between formal serifed Hebrew and sans serif cursive Hebrew. I had to do everything backwards, and so I thought about direction. In school, the rabbis touched the letters as they read them, and I learned how to read through the Chumash as a segmented object. We studied the numerical value of the alphabet and the way the yud is actually present in every letter.
I’ve lost pretty much any fluency I once had, but that mode of thinking about text has stayed with me, though it’s only in the past few years that I’ve made the connection between my interest in form and my experience with language. For me, words are not just a shortcut to meaning or understanding. The shape and space of those words are just as important as the dictionary definition. In conversations about poetry, I am continually surprised by readers for whom every use of space is some kind of symbolic gesture that the reader must puzzle through. I try very hard to appreciate that kind of reader and/or writer, but my brain just doesn’t work that way, and I don’t care to force it to.
Because today was also the last first day of school for me, after my last long summer break, I’m also thinking now about life after academia. Did I wait too long to take this class? Would I be happy if I kept studying in a field more closely related to the visual arts? Right now, I’m dreaming of working for a contemporary art museum. B and I recently had a conversation about spiritual experiences, because neither one of us is particularly religious, and for me the two closest things to that kind of feeling are writing and being in a museum. I’m afraid that when I leave academia, I’ll lose my access to the visual art community. I don’t have anything meaningful or insightful to say about that. I wish I did.
It’s restaurant week in Birmingham, so yesterday B and I went to a fancy restaurant and had a super decadent meal: crispy duck confit with a stuffed fig, drop biscuit pork belly sliders, smoked fried chicken with a summer bean salad and the butteriest of brioches, mascarpone panna cotta, a Night of Joy and a Hemingway Daiquiri. That’s just what I ate. I was so full afterward that my back hurt. I don’t have any pictures because who stops to take pictures when the food is that good?
The statue as an intermediary stage between tree and man. Tree as intermediary between stone
and sun. It was a language, and it spelled a name in space
that erased space.
– Cole Swensen
Ours was one of those books that deeply changed the way I thought about the field of the page in poetry. I thought, You can DO that? You can have this kind of fundamental relationship between the text and the appearance of the text? You can make the page itself a garden? Rereading it years later, the use of space doesn’t feel as radically experimental, but I still love it.
In this brand-new Thesis Mode, I’m trying to read as much as I can toward the questions/forms/ideas my project is thinking about. I mean, the questions/forms/ideas that I’m thinking about. A large amount of this has been rereading, which I’ve really enjoyed. I don’t always give myself the time to go back to old favorites, but I should.
I’m reading Jorie Graham for the first time, one of her first books, and even though the form of these poems (and some of the images) feel a little expected, a little like they’re tapping into popular modes, I’m still enjoying it. Because sometimes a little spike of words and breakages rises up and surprises me, makes me reconsider. It feels like she’s not entirely sure of her perspective yet, like even though this isn’t her very first book, it still feels like it could be. I’ve tried to articulate this in conversation, what it means for a book to feel like a first book—not all first books feel like this, and some not-first books do. It doesn’t prevent me from enjoying the book, or learning something from it, or wanting to emulate something in it, but it’s a thing that’s noticeable, and it makes me want to read the next book or the one after. Not fully-formed, or fully self-conscious, maybe?
The more I try to describe it, the more I feel like a jerk who can’t have nice things. So here’s a picture of my cat:
…”It—the writing of Alette—” “was alive once” “scalding
gold of it” “bitter jet black thunderous train roar” “and the quiet caves”
“and quieter still, the” “incomplete dark Paradise”
– Alice Notley
I made myself finish Mysteries of Small Houses, but it was more useful as a learning experience, rather than enjoyable as a reading experience. The Descent of Alette is probably one of my favorite poetry books of all time—I’ve read it 3.5 times, that half read only because I left my copy in the seat pocket in front of me on a plane. Since I’m interested in books that are not sectioned off, that have no obvious framing device, that are just poems that all come together to do the work, and since I so loved Alette, I made myself finish. But I kept checking to see how many pages were left, and I didn’t read it all in one sitting, like I usually do with poetry collections. I’m intent on not being a hater, though, so I’ll just say that I’d like to emulate Notley’s honesty.
I found my camera battery charger, predictably, in a safe and obvious place. So here are a couple of orchid blooms, taken accidentally with flash:
This is a friend’s blog. She is basically doing the thing that I am dreaming of (you know, other than writing). One day, I am going to scrape something and put flooring down and DAMN I am going to tile a wall. I can just feel it. Every time I go home, I try to convince my parents to take my home improvement advice, but they are so complacent. Once, when I was home from college, my dad left on a work trip and I painted the bathroom while he was gone. I loved it. He thought it was okay.
If I could find the very safe and obvious place I stored my camera’s battery charger during the move, I’d put a picture right here of the nine little orchid blossoms I’ve been checking on every morning. This is the first time one of my orchids has bloomed while in my care, so that is really fucking exciting. To be fair, it’s the orchid that still has the flower stalk it came with—neither of the other two have ever grown a new one. But I believe in them.