09 March, 2011

Duck River Latitudes

I had some new poems recently published at the journal Common-Place, which is sponsored by the American Antiquarian Society. Poet Robert Strong (of Lewiston, Maine) curates a feature (among all of that interesting historical research on Antinomians!) called "Poetic Research" which publishes work by poets who are using historical sources in their work. I'm excited by a new piece in the feature by Sarah Messer, particularly a poem titled "Flower of the Standard Talking Machine," which is a collage poem of titles from a 1910 record catalogue.

My own poems are an excerpt from a larger series titled "Duck River Latitudes" which follows hundreds of miles of the Duck River in central Tennessee. Particularly, I am interested in a section of the river known as "Greenfield Bend," which was where my ancestors had developed three very large plantations from about 1812-1903. I discuss my interests in the project as well as the process of writing this series (among others sources, I have used Google Maps, a canoeist's map, records of floods, and a local field guide). For a time, I was obsessed with the manuscript for these poems. I traveled to the location three different times to gather documents and sources. I have accumulated more material than I've had time to read or to think about. Indeed, I need to transcribe over 100 pages of correspondence that was microfiched before it was destroyed by the county. The original paper was very thin, so I can see the tiny immaculate cursive handwriting slanting both ways (the camera caught the writing on the back of each sheet). Stunning as image--and as palimpsest--the pages are difficult to read. I have not attempted yet to start the transcription. Perhaps there is graduate student in history at NMSU who would want to do it for the (no pay) experience. The fact I'm not thinking of doing it myself is an indicator of how disinterested I've become in the project. I'm at the point where I need to be able to write a poem without thinking of its role within a larger concept, so I just write poems, and the Duck River series is on hold for now. My other concern has been: is it just scenery? Yes, there is a way in which I feel compelled by my relation to the place. But is it enough? For a while now I've been reading in connection to this project: C.S. Giscombe, Williams (Paterson), W.G. Sebald, James Agee (Let Us Praise Famous Men); Eleni Sikelianos (The California Poem); Charles Olson (of course, Maximus);  A.R. Ammons (especially Garbage); Brenda Coultas ("A Bowery Project"); Brenda Ijima's Eco-Language Reader; Lisa Robertson's Occasional Work and Seven Walks from the Office of Soft Architecture; and a stack too tall to list now. The point is, I've lost interest suddenly, but I feel good about it because I can simply write again. 

Here is an excerpt:

Mile 99
087° 15’ 51” W

End of Shelby Bend/Old Church’s Bend
  and I went
sucking into the patchwork
    birds, crested while they
sung in the beeches
    hung over the river
no one remembers
  the rationale of the names
  of these places, I was finally
    in the sun-honeyed detour
  of the last twenty miles of history 
    on the aerial map
faint wagon tracks
    ended at the shores
  shores. What can be said
about this analogy? I see
  the cobble of my life
    versus
the loud welcome of the future?
  I want to ping solemnly into
the sixpenny leaves
  with the northern flickers
unable to dust out the mites?

this is the sum—
at the known sturgeon hole
  dropping bait
into a black green window
into the current
  where you reflected
a combination of happy and sad
    returned
  sublime is
a delicately braided explanation
      in the genes
to tackle it
  to demand more from it
be the outsider
  you needed to un-bend 
  a bethlehem cloud formed far away (thunder behind its threat)
your stomach was speaking its own needs
  you wanted to slay every impulse
    you hesitated
      you insisted



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2 comments:

floydder said...

I think we could learn a bit from your use of Projective Verse here. The way multiple things are being articulated and their juxtaposition does make for an interesting collage like effect, and the form itself seems mimetic of rivers and their paths/branches. Excellent.

Melanie said...

Richard, I think these new poems are beautiful.