a forgetting of, poetry by Colleen Lookingbill
lyric& Press, 2011
Modern lives are such a storm of inner conflicts, doubts, disparities, equivocations, incoherence, that there is little surprise to see it reflected in language. The wonder is to see it with reflected with such brilliance each word is like a blob of mercury from a broken thermometer streaking and running and assuming different shapes as quickly as that deity by which it derives its name.
The patron deity of poetry, however, is not a patron but a patroness named Mnemosyne, the goddess of memory, and mother of the nine muses. The link between memory and poetry is not as artless as it seems. Memory is largely a creative act. We draw images from the past and believe they’re accurate representations of past events without fully realizing the extent to which our minds frame and imagine these events based on an assumed understanding that remains incomplete, unresolved. The mind is plastic. And eternally hungry. Our minds are always working, tangled, enmeshed, complicated, trying to unravel previous incidents and think them through to a soothing resolution.
The other component in this formula is language. Our minds create images, and our facility with language shapes and builds those images into correspondent abstractions. That nebulous pullulation called thought.
It is at this junction between memory, language, and thought that I find the most pertinent way to describe my response to a forgetting of. Lookingbill’s language is similar to that of Ashbery’s in its self-generating drive toward fulfillment. But fulfillment in this sense is a misnomer. Fulfillment is futile. Nor is it particularly desirable. There is a paradox at the core of this impulse: as the language gains in heat and momentum, its subject grows increasingly large and all-embracing, so that obliquity becomes a necessity. The language sheds all quality of being utilitarian. Its tendency is not to aim at anything too directly, which is reductive, but to nourish and expand, slant, wobble, dilate. This is why my first reaction to Lookingbill’s writing was a spirited uplift to its nervous energy. The words go askew, mercurial, and feel liberated.
In “undone in April),” for instance, Lookingbill’s words posit a strongly associative mise en scène for the processional transformations active in memory. The language is fragmented; there is a great deal of imbrication, distillation, and displacement. Images are prevented from a permanent linkage. Everything is in flux. Nervous, tumultuous flux. “imagine all our habits of experience,” it begins,
listening, making their own arrangements
straight into stony severity
then nothing escapes all afternoon
peremptory warming, hand over hand
bewilderment of moral bookkeeping
implications, hurts, threats, mute glances
kind of tattered progress
misfortune falls into ribbons of daydreams
I wait outside
in the old days
not afraid, just waiting
I open your luggage
take off my jacket
gooseflesh warding off bad luck
through the open skylight, stars out one by one
The majority of the pieces in this collection are lineated. But a substantial number are presented as prose. Most are in italics, presented as though encapsulating the overall intent of each section. All have the same title: along the way. As if picked up, via happenstance, via serendipity, to serve as prologue, or epilogue, to perpetual dissemination. “how a complicated history is what gives the very start,” starts the along the way on page 47, at the end of section 4, holding
hands at a rural level with rolling cadences. I mean any explanation, as containers become less available, can also be used where your dry and crusty handwriting is but a memory, a sample of peaceful co-existence from the second or third grade.
leaving tricky balance beyond all entry level elements as dialogue describes living hundreds of miles apart, floating world where we meet circumstances, breadcrumbs not included, remind people it is written by the writers themselves. lines are formed, but feelings are the same. we set out to sound logical, inclined to agree: uniquely squeezing the wish list to build an oil derrick.
details pile up, far-reaching reflex from hipster to deviation. I always seem prohibited from capable extremes until absence reveals which identical ballot box holds water weight. long slow kiss rumbling out of my closet.
Lookingbill has also included some of her visual artwork. These are haunted, fairytale-like collages with a slight Victorian flavor. “The illustrations,” avers Lookingbill in an interview conducted in February of last year, “are combination of scanned assemblages (objects laid out on my little HP printer/scanner), photographs of assemblage art that I crated over the years, and these images layered with visual ephemera that I’ve collected. The process is a bit random, using transparencies and the image program that came with my printer -- relatively low tech, but I like the effect. They were created partially as I went along, then finished after the book was mostly completed. “
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