a month ago I went with C to Nova Scotia to stay at Elizabeth Bishop’s house for five days before going to Hudson, NY to take a workshop with Dottie Lasky at the Ashbery Home School. in the days leading up to the workshop Dottie asked us to write one letter a day to each of our 3 favorite poets. I wrote letters to Lisa Robertson, Ted Berrigan, and Bernadette Mayer. this is the letter to Lisa.
I have the habit of cutting my mouth’s roof on your potion. The result of intimate shards moving in a direction together, attentive, changing. Turning towards you I feel inept and recklessly bound. Most likely, a sentence. Closer to intelligence than knowing, the top of my mouth unwinds. It’s a feeling. Where a tiny cathedral is ruined. I meet you there, magenta pulp.
C and I are staying in Elizabeth Bishop’s house in Nova Scotia for the week. In the morning there is mist written over the marshy pastures behind the house, over the softly treed ridge, above the bay. The house is a lived assemblage, once moved from a hill, extended before Elizabeth was born, patched with pieces of barn. It is whole but not total. When I notice that the floorboards of the foyer and kitchen, the part of the house added when it was moved from the hill, are not parallel with the floorboards of the original house, but angled maybe five degrees differently so that the last floorboard of the foyer and kitchen had to be cut back to fit against the original house, I think of your poems. A choice has been made slanting in a certain direction. “And somewhere the mist incorporates the pulse.” Newspaper is pasted to the attic walls as insulation. Language to coat the house’s intimacy. Reading you, I think of this.
I want to ask you about pleasure as a form of critique, the ways we change what we feel by feeling incommensurably. Not a protest, but a resistance that accumulates in gestures. What is a masculine pleasure that refuses to own, to never only illuminate? I read your books and underline them and they underline a pleasure in me, joining belief. I think to mash together every recorded moment of your laughter from readings, lectures. I think that this would be a way to signify something about what it means to read you. To bare out these terrific globs of joy, these audible, blousy stains. When I think about entering your archive in this way I wonder if the result would be pleasurable or terrifying. A mash-up of wicked chortling and words pitched through laughter’s interruptions. The entrance of the audience’s laughter, the cacophony of it groomed by tiny distances that describe the event of your reading. It might not be what I imagine. It might be terrible gushing. I recognize this fear as exactly the incongruous affect that my fidelity leans toward when intention buckles into the play of the poem, its wild joys. I am thinking your laughter would show me something about joy being horrible in isolation, when it is kept apart. You are showing me how my attention, my joy can resist complicity. You are showing me how to insist. How to be irreducible. In the sun.
Yesterday between Halifax and Truro, C and I passed a billboard for grave monuments on the side of the highway. The large letters of the word MONUMENT take up almost the entire billboard. I want to insist on resisting the poem’s equivalent. The poem that is a billboard announcing itself towards a monument elsewhere. Your poems insist on this. “We hate monuments,” you say. If anything is enshrined in your poems, it is that an us is always possible. Not to be remembered, but to begin. I read your books and my attention becomes a rhythm in the connective pleasure that seems to be the inaugural joy of the “poetic,” the specific, glamorous shock that transforms the natural, “the way it is,” into synthetic, affective potential. Into feeling pulp sound. Into another world in the sun. I imagine writing poems that describe the vernacular of insulation in 19th century farm houses, the rhetorical history of 3-D movies, an utterly exhaustive description, down to the last detail, of Taylor Swift’s Instagram feed. Would this be a way of writing pleasure as critique? Would this be a way of loving my friends in a moneyless way? Reading you, I think of this.
Outside the house I sit in a chair in the grass, my toes racking the wet weave of the blades. When I realize I’m doing this I look down from your book and notice that it isn’t all grass but an amalgam of grasses, broad-leafed weeds, daft bulbs, little shoots. My feet are not in grass, but on “the lawn,” that incongruous “natural” surface of property’s division of space. I look at the lawn and am astonished to not be able to name what is not the grass, the rest of it. I feel like if I could describe it, decorate its variousness, it would cease to be the lawn. It would become the synthetic blanket of peopled time in a particular environment. It would become politics. It would become intimate. “Flawed on the lawn,” writes Elizabeth. Reading you, I think of this.
Looking out, an incredible number of choices have been. I want to fold some attention on those choices, pluck the fatty, illustrious strings of them. It is an intimacy of tone, how I can write the necessity of my distribution, mingling. Cause and effect is always a disaster. More potent emergencies froth here, in the book. The poem gathers and refuses in the lust that results. It is the ongoing surface of attention’s intangible underlining. It is time in a blue pulp, rivered against how I am supposedly singular, identified. The poem purrs against the mow. Invasive intelligence. Skirting likeness in dense, effervescent seduction. One corner of Bishop’s house is held up by a thick beam’s inaccurate murmur. Nevertheless, architecture. To insist on that architecture’s process, collapse and all. In the book, how never to be a tourist among those ruins. Instead, to be their fabric. Beginning to sway.
“The beach hisses like fat,” she says. You would add, “and soft.” Moved, I go to it.