Owen Hill and Noah Ross
(Donna)&(de la Perrière)
"It was the year of night/ lag, the year of falling" -- Donna de la Perrière, "Harvest," Works of Love & Terror
“These moments move fast, if they are going to move at all, and with no superfluous nonsense.” -- Kenneth Fearing, The Big Clock
Loaded guns and a body snicking shut. Getting down to the essence of what I think of as noir. Is there a noir poetry? I’m not sure if it’s recognized as a form or sub genre but it pops up sometimes, not just in reference to, more the embodiment of, including love and terror in the same breath.
The Fearing quote above could apply as a golden rule for this kind of poetry, the kind that plays on/with deep fears, not giving in to much to light at the end of the tunnel--absorbing and appreciating time spent in the dark.
I reread Works of Love & Terror this morning. and (I think) these poems are about what happens when the thing you dread is right there happening. Dread that was below the surface, informing a mood becomes a terror that is confronting you, and it’s...invigorating? Or maybe just the poems are invigorating, but it seems like mood is replaced by the real,
. . . to transform
the human field into
a pageant of meaning--
where the first-person ends
andall subjects get pulled tight like a string.
makes the ritual
Transform is a point of entry into thinking through the metamorphoses of dread, of the subject and attention. Stretched as string,
we’d be sitting there with
and not exactly
or, the tightening of focus:
we seem aware now of the subtlest of changes: so when the wind stops, we start awake as if we’d heard a shriek or a warning – all of this beneath what is visible, a calculable surface.
An attention to the breath of inner workings, the real informs the mood, even and especially when the real cuts out. It is the silence of the world that sparks a warning, and in this invisible silence, how do we calculate?
As I feel out this navigation of love and terror, of silence and warnings, I’m watching a strange wind rip through an otherwise banal and autumnal morning. This wind brings rain seemingly out of nowhere, and for a moment, I too hear a kind of warning. The internet’s cut out, probably due to this wind, and I’m forced to sit with the work, and only the work. There is no outside, it’s a trap of natural force. But what is inside? Also, a trap of natural force. A reminder that the winds will rip at all closed havens, that there is no avoiding the pestilence, that it exists inside of us as well, in our families as inheritance, in our personal histories, in the social fabrics we inhabit.
These delusions generated systems
which caused ordinary people to dread
any ordinary circumstance,
resist the human embrace .
The cover of Saint Erasure is a John Gray photograph of the Danvers State Asylum in Massachusetts. It’s a great, haunting photograph. When I was a kid I spent some summers in Mass and when me and my cousins were acting out my aunt would say “you kids are going to drive me to Danvers.” It was like the worst thing possible, to be in that asylum. And it scared us and fascinated us. That excitement that comes from the things that you dread. Dread occurs so often in Donna’s poetry, like if I ran a search through the various books I think the word would recur often, or perhaps not that often but in a way that pretty much contains the set-up or the bones of the work. It’s, don’t go there, too dreadful, but do go there. Maybe as a form of exorcism? Or to satisfy morbid curiosity? Or both, or because that’s where the beauty is.
In the new body there is always
the sound of the ocean a dark pulse
in the real body there is always
the sound of the ocean
tapping, a dull
The beauty might be what we make of distance, how we might articulate the other side of terror, the lived reality of it still in our bones. It might be possible to find some glimmer of beauty, the terror, when the body has gone on as the body for all these years, and the terror still lives
it, inside us. It might be that beauty reflects the process of healing, of recognition of the terror and recognition of the body in terror, and it is there that we can begin to heal, or begin to process what we might need to heal from. The recognition that the terror, that the trauma, might not fit recognizable structures of narrative, but that it did, once, exist, not just as a narrative to be read, but one that was lived. To recognize the departures of this body, which might feel like a new body, but one that is softened by the same seas, the same shadows, still, aligned by the same skeleton. The beauty does not erase the pain, but shows us where we might locate genealogies of intensities.
The flesh pulls you toward it; it scrubs you with salt
I think it was in the mid-nineties that “dark” became a branding cliché for the literary-fiction-quality-lit crowd. I was at a dinner that sales reps had set up for a popular “literary” writer and the highest praise was “it’s a very dark novel.” But, except for a couple of kind-of lurid chapters, it wasn’t. Darkness/light, hard to do. Leave it to the poets.
Works of Love & Terror: But first look, with the kind of browsing that I do with books in thr bookstore, and the first thought is “this is dark stuff,” obviously from the title and the design of the book, but then the first poem, the exegesis, lets the light in:
... to transform
the human field
into a pageant of meaning.
So when I got down to reading cover to cover I kept those lines in mind. How much darkness do you need in order to appreciate the light? And does the voice in the poem come by it honestly? I’m not referring to the personal life of the poet--that can be nobody’s business. More like, do the difficult, terror-inducing poems ring true? Absolutely. And is there some bit of light coming through, too?
after God there were angels they came out of the dark
Always the question of balance, it might be labelled as “dark stuff” but there’s something that pulls us in, makes us read it not just as works of terror, which of course it is beneath it all, but love too, where there’s a different field of powerful energy. When these days get dark, which they have been more and more, I put on Rachmaninoff’s second piano concerto. You know it, of course, whether that’s because it’s wildly popular, or from the final scene in Brief Encounter: “I do love you, so very much. I love you with all my heart and soul;” “I want to die.” It’s the final moment between illicit lovers, they’re interrupted, never to see each other again. The piece and the scene give us the phrase “tugging at heartstrings.”
There’s a video of Anna Fedorova playing this concerto on Youtube with the North West German Philharmonic. Watching her hands alone fills me with this mixture of terror and love, the real troubling nature of Rachmaninoff’s writing, this concerto in particular, his comeback after hellish reviews of his first symphony and a serious bout of depression and writer’s block only cured by hypnosis. His notes flow off all keys at once, the kind of music that fills one with a desperate sadness I have trouble describing, but feel nevertheless, beyond language.
Reading Donna’s work is like Fedorova’s performance of the exact part of the second movement used in the final scene of Brief Encounter. It’s toward the end of the Adagio sostenuto, and at the very moment Trevor Howard’s Alec says those words to Celia Johnson’s Laura, “My dear, I do love you...” this Youtube video pans to the audience. The motif that forms this apex comes and goes throughout the movement like the wreckage and waves of Donna’s writing, but for some reason, confronting the faces of audience members taking this in fully, present for it, themselves demolished by its emotional pull, with the violins backing Fedorova’s arpeggiated melody, I completely lose it. Played here, there’s a soft sweetness to the emotional destruction, where I am with Donna at the edge of the volcano:
at the edge, ash tastes like memory
as memory tastes like water --
you feel a kind of concreteness, fields of love
and catastrophe: infinity flings a wide net
then pulls itself in --
Straight out of noir, where a new language was invented, coming out of violence. I see a black and white scene here, noir rather than horror, the colors of forties film and also the attitude, high drama but with cadence and diction that turns the volume down a little so the hysteria stays just beneath the surface. Gothic, but gothic and noir are closely related. Similar palate, shades of gray. Southern gothic may add a few dark greens but I’m not sure--I would have to be born there. I think most American contemporary poetry discards, or avoids these strands. There should be more murder in poetry.
“...we are torn between a nostalgia for the familiar and an urge for the foreign and strange. As often as not, we are homesick most for the places
we have never known.” --Carson McCullers
I haven’t lived there, but the familiar and the strange mingle, I can see
...the village/on this sharp street”
by the boneyard
we die young.
Southern gothic? Or anywhere you’re from? Or, I don’t know this place at all but I’ve had that nightmare? It’s like when Rebecca opens, with “I dreamed I went to Mandalay again” you know the kind of dream if not the place. Likewise the “woman in the photograph.” We can’t know what the terrors are “about” but we feel how they are.
there are these stories, and you
have told them all over and over
into nights that peel back the face
of the sky and open up into a high