This is Heather Christle's Typepad Profile.
Join Typepad and start following Heather Christle's activity
Join Now!
Already a member? Sign In
Heather Christle
Recent Activity
Thanks Jim, Leslie & Jenny. (And you too, Romantic dinner recipes.) I am very happy to be useful!
This is my last post of the week, which has me thinking of endings, knowing when to stop and how. I think the first time I truly understood what could be done by changing the end of a poem was in a poetry class with Deborah Digges. We were discussing two versions of Emily Dickinson's poem beginning "I felt a Funeral, in my Brain." The first is the version you probably know, with all the poet's own peculiar capitalizations and dashes: Among the many neutering liberties it takes, the second version (which was the first to appear in print), lops off the last stanza, leaving the speaker wrecked solitary, without ever falling into those other worlds: For a long time that was the story of this poem for me: an indignant condemnation of the overreaching editing of Mabel Loomis Todd and Thomas Wentworth Higginson. I remember thinking of this poem when I heard of Deborah's death, grateful to her for having taught me how to read Dickinson (and so many others). I did not think there was more to know--I thought the poem and I were Finished. But since then I have become a teacher of poetry myself, and in preparing for a class I was teaching this fall, on poetry and technology, it occurred to me that an examination of Dickinson's manuscripts might help us to explore the different possibilities and limitations in moving between a handwrittten and printed text. (This was before Amherst College's exciting announcement that it was making their collection of Dickinson manuscripts available to anyone with access to the internet. Have you looked at it yet? Incredible!) When I found the manuscript for the poem (not part of Amherst College's collection), I was surprised to see that the ending I had imagined as authoritative, certain, pure, in fact had alternate words just below: "crash" for "plunge," and "got through" for "Finished." What is the difference between being finished with knowing and getting through it? A state is replaced with a process. I don't know--I am not finished with knowing--what I make of this. And then how noisy to think of crashing into worlds, when all these years I'd been imagining the quieter plunging. It is hard to know how to say goodbye, how to end something. Maybe Dickinson begins to waver between words at the poem's close because, as Spicer says: Any fool can get into an ocean But it takes a Goddess To get out of one. What’s true of oceans is true, of course, Of labyrinths and poems. Luckily, even a fool can end a week of posting on a blog without too much fuss. Thank you for this space and time. It has been a pleasure. --Heather Christle Continue reading
Posted Jan 18, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
Mine too. You can play it almost anywhere and it's free.
This evening I was reading this post on The Hairpin, all about "low-effort toddler games" like "Do You Like My Hat?" and "Hide Things in Your Clothes," and it reminded me of a passage from the children's book Pinky Pye, wherein a cat types up a list of suggested games: The very clever cat then goes on to explain more complicated games, which you might enjoy reading (beginning on page 118). And this led me to thinking of all the games I've played with poet friends, which now I will tell you how to play, in case you find yourself with guests or selves to entertain this weekend. 1. Game of First Lines This is just like Balderdash, only instead of inventing definitions for obscure words, you invent first lines for titles. Pull a literary journal off the shelf, open to the first poem, read the title aloud, and then have your friends write down a convincing option for a first line, while you write down the actual one. Gather them all together, read them out loud, and have everyone guess which is real. Points to anyone who guesses right, or whose line manages to fool someone. Or don't keep track of points. Then pass the journal to the next person, so you get a chance to invent. 2. Game of Following the Rules of Vasko Popa's Game Poems I just made this up, but I think it would end in tears. Here is how you play "Seducer" One caresses the leg of a chair Until the chair moves And motions him coyly with her leg Another kisses the keyhole Keeps kissing it and how Until the keyhole returns the kiss A third one stands to the side Watches the other two And shakes and shakes his head Until his head drops off 3. Game of Not Listening When you are stuck in an audience listening to someone who is dull or going on for too long, write down words and phrases she says, in order, but very selectively, so that by the time she finishes you have a much better speech she could have made had she only known how to edit herself. Extra points if you arrange her own words into an entirely different subject. 4. Game of Constant Similes Pretend that every time someone says "like" as filler (of the "um" variety) he is embarking on making a simile it is your job to understand. 5. Game of Stacking Books This game I borrowed from Matthea Harvey, who borrowed it from the artist Nina Katchadourian. Go to a place full of books. Find titles you'd like to arrange into a poem. Stack them in an order that pleases you. Depending on whether or not you think the place is trying to keep the books in a different order, you might consider leaving them there for someone to discover. Or take a picture. 6. Game of "Life of Game" Listen to Loren Goodman. 7. Game of Thinking of... Continue reading
Posted Jan 17, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
You know the moment when you discover that other people have the same dream as you? I love that. I don't mean dream as in goal; goals are silly. Dreams are much more important. It's only recently come to my attention that lots of people (besides me) dream about discovering new rooms in houses they thought they knew. I've had the dream a few times, about a few different houses, but the feeling is always the same. I'm tremendously excited. There's more space! How could I have forgotten? How magnificent! Some cleaning will be needed, of course, but just think of everything we can do with the room! I was talking about this dream with Dara Wier (who mentioned a dream of discovering a whole cave, which led her to write this) when I realized that I get a similar feeling, sometimes, if I'm lucky, when I'm writing a poem. It's not that I discover there's a way to get to a new idea or image--I'm always aware of that possibility--it's more that I realize there's a whole other way of thinking that I had forgotten was accessible. The other day I figured out how to play King's Quest 5 (Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder), a pretty old computer game, on my new laptop. That is not like finding a new room in a house. That is like very purposefully digging a tunnel into your past. My past. But the game does involve spaces changing, new routes becoming available. You just have to be patient, hide and wait for the bandits to come to the temple, say. I kind of can't believe I am typing about this. Ben Hersey, one of the performers I most admire, has an incredible sense of patience, an awesome ability to wait for words to show him how they want to change even as he speaks them. You can see what I mean in this performance, beginning just before minute 7 (though I recommend watching the whole thing, of course): If you get through to minute 14, Ben bursts into something like song--which is what I feel like doing when watching him perform. Imagine if you discovered a room in your house with this man in it! That would be a dream home. Anyway, if you'd like to stay in the room for a while with Ben, here he is as Walt Whitman. I'll see myself out. -- Heather Christle Continue reading
Posted Jan 16, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
Today I finished updating with content from the new issue--our twenty-second. Much of the process is a little mundane, like figuring out (with my extremely limited html skills) how to best represent a poem's irregular form. It's a puzzle, but not an especially artistic one. On the other hand, once all that formatting's complete, I get to move on to my favorite part of making a new issue: determining how to index the poems. We do have an index of contributors' names, but the "index of ideas" is where I get excited. Might I associate a poem with already-existing terms like meat or money? Or does the poem demand the addition of new terms to the index? While I was working today I realized that--to my great surprise--ghosts had not yet made it onto the list. It took this particular group of haunted poems to push the word forward in my consciousness. It's a strange way to read, moving my eyes over the poems and back into my memory through some alternate dimension. If I typically read a poem with my eyes on the poem, reading to index lets me read through them. It's like discovering an elevator in the middle of an ice skating rink. And down I go. I'm an irresponsible indexer. I don't pretend to be complete or consistent. Nor do the other index-makers I admire. The other day, reading the final chapter of Alberto Manguel's A History of Reading, I ran into this passage, which describes the index of the book Manguel says he hasn't written, but would like to read--titled The History of Reading: I know it possesses a copious and curious index which will give me intense delight, with headings such as (I fall by chance on the letter T) Tantalus for readers, Tarzan's library, Tearing pages, Toes (reading with), Tolstoy's canon, Tombstones, Torment by recitation, Tortoise (see Shells and animal skins), Touching books, Touchstone and censorship, Transmigration of readers' souls (see Lending books). I rushed to the actual index of A History, and felt first disappointment, then a kind of thrill to see that no such terms were to be found. In their place? Very useful and proper headings: Torah, translation, troubadour. This straightforward collection meant that I could invent my own copious and curious index for the rest of the alphabet. It was not limited by actually existing; it was the largest index in the world. At times, for fun and self-instruction, I've indexed my own poems, taking a cue from my friend Zachary Schomburg (hi Zach), who has included an index in all three of his books, helping readers notice the presence of Blood in the trees, Bravery, and Baseball (see also Sports). Baseball appears, by the way, in the jubilat index as well. Not yet have I attempted the poem as index, but the late Paul Violi did. More than attempted! He recognized that an index is a tremendously revealing form: an imperfect x-ray of a book's soul. (Or... Continue reading
Posted Jan 15, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
One morning early in my life I decided it was high time I read a book. My parents had been pointing out letters to me for a while, and I loved noticing “H”s when we drove past billboards, or stood in line at the supermarket near the magazines. They had helped me begin making the link between letters and their sounds, and I was tired of being surrounded by words I could not decipher on my own. From a shelf in the living room I selected Owl and Sleepy Dragon, carried it to the kitchen table, and went to work. Reading the word “owl” wasn’t too hard, but I thought “dragon” might kill me. Holy crap. How, I thought, did everyone manage to suffer like this, through the constant, slow, agonizing accumulation of sound into meaning? I kept slogging on, but I was not looking forward to the rest of my life. Then I hit the word “dragon” for a second time. I began my time-consuming decoding until it hit me, somewhere around the third letter, that I knew this word. This word was already mine; I recognized it as I would recognize any recently acquired toy, with relish. Until that moment it had not occurred to me that words could reappear with the same letters in the same order. What an excellent idea! And my long journey into literacy worked for years by repeating that same trick, acquiring and then maintaining recognition of an entire word. To borrow from the neurolinguist Stanslas Dehaene's Reading in the Brain, I was moving from the phonological route (sounding out letters) into the lexical (apprehending entire words). For a long time it became difficult for me to not read a word, to actually see its constituent parts. It was poetry, of course, that returned my letters to me. There are many, many poetry books that resist easy access to simply lexical reading (think of what music Harryette Mullen makes of meaning in Sleeping with the Dictionary’s “Kirstenography”), but I want to focus here on what happens when you try to read Franck Andre Jamme’s New Exercises, translated from the French by Charles Borkhuis. Before I send you over the the Wave Books site to see a poem for yourself, I should tell you a couple of things from the book's introduction, first that "Tablets like these used to be found on small gold leaves in ancient Roman graves. These leaves were typically folded inside the closed hands or mouths of the dead. They could be read as maxims, wishes, recommendations, or favorite sentences." And secondly, that Jamme says he wanted "to distract myself for once with letters and words, and to abandon, for a time, the customary, linear way of reading. To obscure it in order to suddenly render attention necessary; not only attention, but even a kind of effort." Got that? Okay, click here to read the first poem. How was that? How do you feel? Did the words elude you? Did... Continue reading
Posted Jan 14, 2013 at The Best American Poetry