Archive

Tag Archives: schooling

I am officially a Master of Fine Arts.

I defended my thesis yesterday, and in a strange twist of fate I wished that the defense was longer. I’m very conscious of the fact that I’ll be leaving Alabama soon, and that carefully considered conversations about my poetry will not be happening on a regular basis. But now that I’m a Master, I can just command people on the street to talk poetry to me, right? Right. It was so nice to hear all the nice things the committee had to say, about flatness and intimacy and the constructed body and pronouns! and all the other parts of my thesis that I fretted over. My advisor even admitted that although we had disagreed over my pronoun usage, I convinced him in the end that it was right for the project. I feel like the book came out the way I wanted it to, which is maybe the highest compliment I can stand to give myself. I’m proud of it.

My MFA friends will all be defending their work soon, so I plan on observing their defenses. I’d like to hold on to this community as long as I can, and also, their work is so great—imagine a mashup of Ovid and Peter Pan and black bears and poured-concrete mountains and Monumental Women and spaghetti westerns and Beanie Babies and the baddest of bad sisters and hulking ships and delicately shaving someone else’s legs. I feel lucky to have been around such crazy good writers for so long.

I began to write in an ugly way
To subtract myself from womanhood and see only
A person in bas-relief with crucial parts and cartoon
Grief. Grooming and fashion make a seduction
To hide the horrors of the day.
I have to be bad to be this way. I will give it up for you.
I think I am ready to. I want to be sick over something else
And act like another kind of person, a writer
With ideas, not selves, a woman with values
More than scars and years and you know
Um tears.

– Ariana Reines

 

Finally / Reading Mercury / Making attempts to write in an ugly way / Having attended previews of our next poetry faculty candidates / Having realized / really / My need to be taught / To teach myself / To mourn my Self the Student / and to write more Um Tears / in the politics of my thesis as it becomes its own municipality.

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.

Today, I have a thesis advisor. I have work to do for the job I’ll take over in less than a month. I have future plans, and I wish for it to be the future, because the future looks nice. These upcoming weeks feel like treading, waiting for someone to blow the whistle so that I can get out of the cold pool and go on, but these are also the last couple of weeks before I enter my last year here. Four years always sounds so long, but it spends itself so quickly. I’ve lived in this house for almost a year now, and the front room is still empty. In the future I have plans to be less complacent, to shape things the way that I want them to be shaped, to observe corners and closets and schedules.

I reread Cole Swensen’s The Glass Age, made a nice dent in The Poetics of Space, and started rereading Jenny Boully’s The Body, so this plane trip was a success. Also, neither one of my planes crashed, which I very much appreciated. Lately, I’ve been interested in rereading things, trying to re-experience a text that formed my writing or spoke to my writing or tapped my writing on the shoulder shouting HEY before running away. I’m also trying to figure out, specifically, if my approach to writing through/on/about space is difficult/different/unmoving. Workshop has been a strange experience this semester. I haven’t actually taken a workshop in two years, but I have taken classes in which I got feedback on my work, from people who’ve been reading it since I entered this program, and now most of those people are graduated. Having a lot of new eyes on my writing is helpful, because I have to look at it from a new perspective, but also less helpful, because there are things that I understand in a certain way, and one of the things I’ve learned over the last few years is to trust my instincts, trust the thing that I enjoy about the piece. Also, I am very stubborn. Um, extremely stubborn.

Two years ago, I bought a giant neon art book on Paul Thek. Almost four years ago, I walked into the Reina Sophia museum in Madrid on a whim, found myself lost in a giant retrospective on an artist I’d never heard of. A cavernous procession of installations and painted newspaper. Body parts everywhere under neon plexiglass and in every image an image of the artist himself. A year ago my parents wanted to see Edward Hopper at the Whitney, and I tagged along, and I found myself again in a cavernous space. A projection of the artist’s face on the wall, forty feet high, his body suspended from the ceiling and covered with fish. That familiar tar baby. The notebooks laid open across a table, frustratingly under glass. The same bodies reconstructed, this is not a linear narrative I have to tell. The book weighs a lot, and it cost a lot to ship it. The artist died the year that I was born. I have seen the neon in the corner of my room for two years, keeping watch in the corner, the relic in the reliquary I confuse myself if I am perhaps the relic if the artist’s body is the relic what can we say about replica.

Chris Dercon asks: How, today, can we install and exhibit fragile or temporary works originally produced in the 1960s and 1970s? How can we deal in a responsible and creative way with past oeuvres? Can we reconstruct lost or damaged works at our own will? Can we remake temporary installations? Can we re-install site-specific installations in new contexts? Can we construct projects that the artist only conceived on paper?

Referencing Guy Brett, he adds: It would seem that all exhibitions are mediated versions of something which can never be completely identified or fixed, and issues of death and renewal can never be escaped.

Again I find myself chasing the image of the artist. This is all a really dramatic way of saying, I think I’ve figured out what I want to write for a particular semester project. It’s been following me for years. A lot of what I’ve written and how I think about writing and art has been influenced by Thek, on a chance encounter in a museum in another country where I was briefly made a work in progress and set loose.

I often think that I should like to have my house front on this mass of dull red bushes, omitting other flower plots and borders, transplanted spruce and trim box, even graveled walks–to have this fertile spot under my windows, not a few imported barrowfuls of soil only to cover the sand which was thrown out in digging the cellar…Bring your sills up to the very edge of the swamp, then (though it may not be the best place for a dry cellar), so that there be no access on that side to citizens. Front yards are not made to walk in, but, at most, through, and you could go in the back way.

Yes, though you may think me perverse, if it were proposed to me to dwell in the neighborhood of the most beautiful garden that ever human art contrived, or else of a Dismal Swamp, I should certainly decide for the swamp.

– Thoreau, “Walking”

 

It’s funny to read this after just reading Cole Swensen’s Greensward (and, a while back, Ours). She is so into the contrived, constructed garden space, the formal walkways and mapping of landscape. Every blade of grass the same length. An aesthetics of nature at right angles, geometric.

 

from my first garden, two years ago