Thursday, November 15, 2012

Best American Poetry 2012: Kerrin McCadden: Collisions & Creations

In her contributor's note to BAP 2012, Kerrin McCadden writes:

I like collisions. I like to bang things together inside a poem and use a tangle of rubber bands to hold it together. In this poem ["Becca"], there is a clear story, and, I believe, a clear understory, but there are also a pile of antique bird books, Kafka, geography, my standing love of etymology and fonts, Mary Oliver, and the terror and thrill of letting children go. There is something in the gathering storm of wide and disparate reading that charges me for writing. I am fond of a coming-of-age poem that leans on Kafka, of a wish for a beautiful life that leans on tattooing, of a man who creates beauty all day by inking people's skin but does not know what a stanza is--who thinks its a kind of bird.

Living in this world for any time at all will expose one to an experience of something constructive being created from something destructive.

Creation comes from collision. The heavy element of iron that carries the oxygen in our blood to sustain our lives is born from the collision of molecules deep in the core of an aging star, losing their identities as hydrogen and helium, exploding in a climactic burst, spreading not only iron, but gold, silver, platinum--all of the metals we hold as precious--into the cosmos. And some four billion years ago a Mars-sized planet collided with Earth, a glancing blow that stripped away material that coalesced in orbit to form our moon.

Last night in San Rafael (CA), I attended a launch part for the book, Creating On Purpose, by Anodea Judith and Lion Goodman. Among other things, I learned from Lion that the "cide" of "decide" means to cut. When one decides, one "cuts off" some possibilities in order to gain others. And I took away from Anodea a satisfying saying: "We can have anything, but we can't have everything."

And so it is with our poems. They start with a word, a line, a "vision" and then expose themselves to a larger (infinite?) universe of words, images, and ideas, where the original material is pummeled and reshaped--even some of it destroyed--in order to "re-vision" the work, in order to bring the act of creation through the poem's entire evolution, not just to its inception.

And so it is with our lives...

Here, then, is the conclusion of McCadden's poem, "Becca," after Becca has "decided" on her tattoo:

...............................She lies
on the bed while the artist marks her back,
his needle the harrow for her sentence. Make of
my life a place to stand, stopping-places, a series
of rooms, stances, "stare, stantia, stay." She has
shown him a bird she wants perched above the final
word, "stanza." It is a barn swallow--ink blue flash.
He says, toward the end, so she can know it will hurt
to ink so much blue. "I am filling in the stanza now,"
and he stings her right shoulder again and again,
filling the room of the bird. Make of my life
a poem, she asks me and him and her mother
as she walks away, make of my life something
wild, she says. I watch her strike out across
Number 10 Pond, the tattoo flashing with each stroke
and there is barely enough time to read it.

1 comment:

granddaddy said...

When does the poem become a tattoo? When does it become painfully embedded and ineradicable, unable to be further revised?

Perhaps it is revision that prolongs the last spark of whatever light signaled the beginning of the poem and the coming end of the light event.

J. Philip Newell, a disciple of what he calls Celtic spirituality and I have experienced as fertile ground for poetry, notes in his The Book of Creation: An Introduction to Celtic Spirituality that in the 7-day creation story of Genesis, God creates light first. And it is only days later that he creates sun, moon, and stars. What was that first light?

Today I am thinking of it as what the poet sees beneath or within everything else, what calls the poet to create a world of her own, what pushes a poet to try again to capture it in words only not to capture it but, at best to point himself and his reader toward it.

A student, defending her tattoos against my label of "shallow monuments to the fear of change" (or was it "shrines to the hope of immutability"? or some other self-protective verbal wall?), told me that her tattoos were visual evidence of moments survived. (She was 16 at the time; I might have been 61.)

In the collision of light and not light, teen and geeze, then and now, tattoos and keyboards, the couch I sit on in Texas and the place you read, Genesis and Big Bang, Celts and Kerrin McCadden, alliteration and platinum, poems, perhaps, are monuments in ink to the moments we have survived. Or seen? Or lived? And though we cannot preserve them no matter how much (or how painfully) we revise, we bear/bare our verbal tattoos to point us to their light.

Wait! I've lost track here. Your blog or mine? I'm just commenting. "We came to town to see / that old Tattooed Lady. /She was a sight to see / Tattooed from head to knee. / My Uncle Ned was there; / He came to gape and stare.... "