Readings and Wantings

(found online)Went to Open Books for Brenda Hillman’s reading this evening.  It was packed, standing room only by the time she started, despite the blustery and rainy evening.  A lot of UW students were there, including some of the friends I’ve made.  It’s a strange place, to be friends with current MFA students in a program I didn’t attend.  They have been nothing but kind, but I definitely feel like a bit of an outsider sometimes.  I was talking to one of them about Forrest Gander (and his book Eye Against Eye, my pick for the poetry book club I’ve become part of) and Brenda overheard.  She brought it up later in the night, both as an example of a poet that “Aunt Zelda” would like, and as a poet who continually evolves and is currently on top of his game.  I instantly had to think back–had I said something contradictory to that and she was countering? I forget that conversations can be overheard sometimes. We all create our private bubble and it’s shocking when reminded- this isn’t a conversation that exists outside of earshot.  I was so concerned about what I might have said about Forrest (which, when reflecting back calmly, was just that I have a bit of a crush and I love his work, Torn Awake a bit more than Eye Against Eye, but still, I love all of it) that I didn’t realize until later that Brenda said she overheard students talking.  But I’m not a student anymore. And this, frankly, breaks my heart a little.

Brenda, before her reading, talked a lot about the importance of supporting local book stores.  Open Books is one of the reasons I felt I had to come to Seattle, and I love that I can just walk down a few blocks and buy from them.  I do try to get poetry from them rather than online, and for the most part, I can do it.  It was crowded tonight, but I plan on going back to get the next book club book there.  Rumor has it that Elliot Bay will be closing its doors in Pioneer Square, and I’ve heard that it’ll be moving to Capital Hill.  Still, it’s such a landmark- that it has to move at all is shocking.  And yet, not. So buy books from your local stores for your Aunt Zelda, as Brenda suggested.  I might head down to Open Books and do my shopping there- include with each book a letter about why I’m in Seattle, what I’m trying to do here, and why I’ve chosen to send poetry rather than cooking utensils.  Thanks for the suggestion Brenda.


Scent of Travel


I’ve traveled a fair amount across the states, and kept journals along the way for the most part.  In talking with a friend last night, I realized again how short these journals can come to the real experience.  He used to film a lot of his trips and adventures, putting together edited versions complete with soundtracks. (What I wouldn’t give to see some of those films… but that’s another story…) It was sort of funny to be talking about these records of life, but only in a secondary way.  We couldn’t share my journals or his videos.

Sometimes the remove of text frustrates me.  It’s almost there, but not quite.  The reader has to work to experience what the writer intends.  Sometimes this work is the most exciting part.  It’s give and take.  I lent a friend Forrest Gander’s Torn Awake and we both agreed that they aren’t easy poems.  Still, you want to come back to them, to understand them.  I want to.

Then there is work that text is just incapable of.  I have yet to find a way of recounting a scent accurately.  I can approximate the flood of memory as I turn a corner and run into the scent of my kitchen after returning from vacation, or the strange fruity and heady scent of Teen Spirit that brings me right back into the locker room in 8th grade and all of the awkwardness of adolescence.  I can try to capture the sum of the scent, but I don’t think I can pinpoint exactly what it is.

This morning, riding the escalator towards the first of many gates, it smelled of travel.  There’s something metallic about travel. Weary and coffee stained, even in the morning.  Right now it seems like airports could be anywhere.  The views out the glass windows may change, the artwork along the moving sidewalk may change, but they are essentially the same.  Airports feel surreal- a bit slanted off of how things are outside the walls.  People forced beside each other, everyone shifting and moving and wanting to be Somewhere Else.

Today I can’t help but giggle at it all.  I’m tired and weary, but I keep hearing laughter and I keep hearing the way people hold different words in their mouths.  I am paying attention to accents quite intensely now- rolling the difference between –aught and –ought through my mouth; between Scotland the way I say it and Scotland the way it’s said “properly.”  Is it affecting an accent if I try to mimic the vowels, or is it pronouncing the place correctly?  It’s making me giggle, stumbling over the vowels as though learning to read again.  It’s exhilarating.


“I am interested in language because it wounds or seduces me.” (Roland Barthes, The Pleasure of the Text)

After a 17 mile bike ride down the Berke Gilman Trail to Open Books and back, I finally have Forrest Gander’s translations of Coral Bracho- Firefly Under the Tongue.  I had the good fortune to see Gander and Bracho read at the Dodge Poetry Festival earlier this year, and Chris Abani was kind enough to introduce me to Gander afterwards.  Surrounded by poets of much renown, Gander talked to me for a while and made me feel less lost.  I decided then that once I came out to Seattle I’d find his books at Open Books, and though it was a bit confusing (my own mistakes) eventually the right text ended up in my hands.  Both his work and his translations have my mind reeling a bit. 

Again, I find myself wishing to be proficient in a language besides English.  Bracho’s work in Spanish sounds lovely in my head, but my tongue won’t wrap around the letters quite right.  Gander’s translations are wonderful, but I ache to read and understand the original text.   Firefly Under the Tongue is an interesting counterpart to The Pleasure of the Text by Roland Barthes.  I’m beginning to lose boundaries between text, author, and reader.  Reading Bracho, I am torn between wanting to be subject and wanting to be subject-er. Composer. Writer. The written and the writer.  Or the text itself.  I feel voyeuristic when reading :

Sé de tu cuerpo: los arrecifes,

las desbandadas,

la luz inquieta y deseable (en tus muslos candentes la lluvia incita), 

de su oleaje:

Sé tus umbrales como dejarme al borde de esta holgada,


mezquita tibia; como urdirme (tu olor suavísimo, oscuro) al

    calor de sus naves.



I know of your body: the reefs,

the scattering birds,

the light sought and unsettled (on your candescent thighs incited by rain),

of your surge:

I know your thresholds as though they let me go to the edge of this roomy,


tepid mosque; as though they wove me (your dark suave scent) into

      the heat of its naves.


(From En esta oscura mezquita tibia/In This Dark Tepid Mosque)

Voyeuristic, and yet I can’t turn away. Don’t want to turn away.  That this text is not about me, not by me, not including me: wounds. That this text intrigues me and pulls me: seduces.  It pushes me.

Then, of course, there is the gaze. To be gazed at, to gaze back.  Such a simple word, soft buzz sound. Not the glint of glance, but the steady vibration across skin of gaze.  I am used to gaze in art (the Frye has an exhibit up right now actually) but I hadn’t put much thought into it in text.  And yet, here I am gazing. And wanting the gaze. And naming it (voyeuristic) but finding surprise at the name.