Sunday, July 22, 2007

in which she reasserts the enjoyment of naming

We took the Circle Line today. The loop around Manhattan took 3 hours, and our guide had very little to say about the Bronx, for instance, so parts of it got a little boring. But it is good, I think, or at least good for me, to cultivate a sense of being new to these parts, of wonder at wherever I happen to be.

I have been thinking about this a lot lately. Recently I passed my 4-year anniversary of becoming an ex-expat*. I have basically lived my adult life in 4-year chapters, so what this means to me looking out across the open sky of year 5 is that I have no idea how to proceed. In the past, I've staved off boredom by up & moving to a far-off land where I would proceed to expend my very last breath trying not to be an outsider, which I interminably was.

Still, I remember laughing once at a breathless someone who imagined my life to be incredibly exotic. I laughed because most of the time my life was a bag of papers that had to be graded by Monday. It was not exotic, I protested, not at all, but while that was true, it was also true that the littlest things that surrounded me all had different, new-to-me names, names that I was prone to repeat and savor in my mouth**. It simply was not possible for me not to pay attention.

New York is like that for a lot of people, I know, th'usband included. Everything that happens here is a bit more laden and/or fraught with meaning by sheer virtue of it having happened in New York. In subsequent retellings, the stage directions always specify the neighborhood(s) involved. There are accents and pushcarts and zany bystanders and local color. Everything is lit with heartbreakingly New Yorky light.

*Attempting to appear Interesting, I suppose, I commented to someone I've never met that I am an ex-expat. I said this because I'd been thinking about all of this, and feeling a bit beige, and because my earlier admission that I was an ex-poet had generated excitement and inspired a whole new category. It inspired; with it, I'd carved out a whole new plane of existence for myself. For a second there it was almost like up & moving. But this ex-expat business, while kindly received, turned out to be a statement of the obvious. "of course poets are ex-pats so an ex-poet would almost have to be an ex-expat," sed ryan.

Ouch. He's right, of course. An ex-pat is always finding out the word for something for the first time and cannot afford lapses of attention. At first it is about understanding and being understood and being able to participate in serious conversations without sounding like a six-year-old. Later it is about the pleasure of those words in your mouth, and that is poetry. **Gertrude Stein put it this way:
What is poetry.
Poetry has to do with vocabulary just as prose has not....
And what is the vocabulary of which poetry absolutely is. It is a vocabulary entirely based on the noun as prose is essentially and determinately and vigorously not based on the noun.
Poetry is concerned with using with abusing, with losing with wanting, with denying with avoiding with adoring with replacing the noun. It is doing that always doing that, doing that and doing nothing but that. Poetry is doing nothing but using losing refusing and pleasing and betraying and caressing nouns. That is what poetry does, that is what poetry has to do no matter what kind of poetry it is....
I have said that a noun is a name of anything by definition that is what it is and a name of anything is not interesting because once you know its name the enjoyment of naming it is over and therefore in writing prose names that is nouns are completely uninteresting. But and that is a thing to be remembered you can love a name and if you love a name then saying that name any number of times only makes you love it more, more violently more persistently more tormentedly. Anybody knows how anybody calls out the name of anybody one loves. And so that is poetry really loving the name of anything and that is not prose. Yes any of you can know that. (From "Poetry and Grammar," one of Stein's 1934 Lectures in America)
Look, all that happened today is that we took the Circle Line and I took about fifty pictures, and when we got off and we were walking towards our car on 46th St., a guy spotted the camera around my neck and asked if we needed a cab. And although my immediate response was to get all I'm-from-Brooklyn on him (because I am still always all about expending hasta el ultimo aliento trying not to be an outsider), in the seconds that followed I realized that it was a good thing to be taken as a tourist. If my project for year 5 is to learn how not to up & move it behooves me not to make myself too much at home. I need to look up from the sidewalk in front of me, ask people for the words for things, hear the accents, linger in the New Yorky light. I need to carry a camera and pay attention. That's all I'm saying.


bodhibound said...

Hey sister,

This is a delicious toe-out into opener, intimater writing. I'm enjoying the inside-out experience of a warm smile for having read it.

Ryan W. said...

the naming thing. the just getting along in another country. all the actions that make up getting along there seem like their own exact facts, and justified, meaning the fill the whole width. yeah, harder to get that in the states. it's not enough to just get from morning to night unless you're in a foreign land.

Ryan W. said...

*they* fill the whole width

cathye said...

ryan is always right and especially right when he stops thinking.

Ryan W. said...

cathy's right.