Friday, February 18, 2011

Why memory?

Somewhere on Lauren Berlant's blog she writes, almost in passing, that memory is of no concern to her. I don't remember where to find it, but I hunt. She titles many of her posts "comb-over," which I love because my in-laws' dog, Harry, looks like a middle-aged man with a comb-over, possessed as he is with an extra layer of poodle hair over his dachsund/chihuahua fur. And I wonder if there can be metaphor if there is not an obsession with memory? Surely there can be, but not for me. I've been writing memory cards again. Just finished a series of 10 that riff off (allegedly) random phrases of George Oppen, taken from the Michael Davidson edition of the Collected. Memory cards depend on memory, but also on the intrusions of the present into memory; sometimes it seems to me that I live backwards in that way. I'll be driving over the H3 in the morning remembering some odd thing from childhood, or some non-odd thing, like my father's presence (out of his absence), and then I'll sort of remember seeing the mountains wreathed in cloud, Kane`ohe Bay, the Marine Corps base, the Pacific Ocean, when I realize that's not memory, that is now. The cards operate on a similar principle. Intrusions are assumed to be what's most significant. Jazz sets out a melodic line (unless it's free jazz) and then juggles it, plays with it, hems and haws at it, transforms it finally. At which point the piece ends, because what is music without transformation but the silence after? I wonder why I'm listening to Bach as I write this, though he would often, as a dusky voice on npr tells me on another drive over the H3 to pick up my son, recycle themes, use them over and again, once for voice, once for violin. This morning there was a piece on by de Falla which was seriously odd. Even the announcer said so afterwards. Where there had been voice and guitar he had replaced voice with trumpet. So it sounded like a flamenco dancer lost in New Orleans. Or yesterday, again on the radio, an Englishman was talking about the bird in his garden that lives in Asia; only nine of them have been seen in England in a century! He was charging 5 pounds to lay eyes on the bird, then giving the money to the bird association (lest we think him too entrepreneurial). Memory is what sticks out as not fitting--any more--but to put it in context (the context of now) makes it fit otherwise. Which may or may not be a fit. (Oh god, not a Honda.)

My obsession with memory is probably biological in origin. When I suffered severe depressions, the ones that come with anxiety to keep you awake for months, heart poundingly awful eras, the fierce engine pushed forward memories. They came in random order, but when they came, they entered my head in oddly organized fashion. So, if I looked at my bathtub, I would see a slideshow of bathtubs from my experience, including the one with clawed feet I'd seen in a relative's house as a child. That I didn't remember what relative is another story, indeed, the story about forgetting the significant things, or those that you might consider significant. Memory creates significances, but sometimes takes them whole cloth them out of the recycle bin. Bach again: I loved him most when things were at their most chaotic. He made sense, but he was also very complicated. I'm listening to him now, did I tell you?

The last set of memory cards I did was based on George Oppen's poems. Did I say that? Of course I did, but you would have had to read another post to know that. They began with the nearly obligatory Oppen phrase, "the lyric valuables." As it was end of January, that led to an odd play between mystical language and the Super Bowl. But suddenly Oppen's words triggered poems that were all about Egypt, dementia, a revolution, Radhika's spelling test, more revolution. The only break I've allowed myself in the rule of starting from another poet's language came on 11 February, when I wrote, "The vocabulary word of the day is euphoria." It was a word I insisted my children learn on that day; we heard it over and again on the television and in our own conversations. Euphoria is utterly present. There is no past tense for it. And it always passes. In love and crowds, it is that utopian instant whose beauty is determined by intensities of union and the certainty that it shall pass. (That might take us back to the Super Bowl, but it won't.)

So memory cards endeavor to preserve, if not euphoria, then its trace. The personal beauty of this is that no longer is memory a cloud tinged with acid, a kick in the gut whenever it roils over into a new series, sequence, slide-show. Memory is, without too much affect. It's all in the effect, now, or most of it. So here is the moment in memory cards when memory doesn't so much fail as it concedes. (The full set will appear in the Australian journal, Mascara, guest-edited by Keri Glastonbury.) I will add links to the poem to give it web-memory.

The shape is a moment is a monument in process no flash no focus but a flag of our disposition that winds around the square circle inside of box inside of cloud faces like voices coming and growing louder then quiet when Al-Jazeera turns to sports then back to euphoria in the circled square young woman in a shawl on youtube (this was 25 Jan) exhorts men to be men and old women in the square mouths wide open and middle-aged men sweeping white dust with huge fronds and the body functions for once as a system blooms like a flow chart needing more space the lines across which are not final but dipped in martyr's ink no one wants to leave the square or the circle they sleep propped against tanks against pavement against sharp angles violation of geometries of this body working this body with its stark white bandages over noses and cheeks and foreheads this coming into shape which is so beautiful to see

--12 February 2011

I haven't found Berlant's remark about memory, but that's likely because I gave up looking for it. I don't need to find it because I remember it, however vaguely. I remember it because it surprised me. Like many surprises, it was a wake up call. Smell the roses, which are (damn it!) roses. But then, something tells me, store them up to present them later as re-collections. FTD ain't got nothing on this sloganeering. (Slogan was Sangha's vocabulary word from Charlotte's Web last night. My father, who grew up on a farm, cried when he read that book, he so loved pigs.)

But that's another card.


Tomorrow I leave for Portland. I will be reading at Pacific University on Monday, talking with a psychology class there Tuesday, reading again in Portland on Friday, in Seattle on Sunday, and in Olympia for Leonard Schwartz's class on Monday.

And looking ahead, off Joe Harrington's fine blog: SUSAN M. SCHULTZ. Topeka. Tuesday, March 15, 2011, 7:00 p.m., Blue Planet Cafe, 110 SE 8th Ave. Free (but 'twould be nice to buy a latte or something).

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