Sunday, January 11, 2015

Albert Saijo's Poems of the Climate

When I think of weather in poetry, I think of Wallace Stevens's poems on clouds, snow, winter. The best weather was simple, cold. But, because cold is not enough, the poet desires "so much more than that." Here is the first stanza of "Poems of Our Climate": "nothing more than carnations" is all that a human being needs, and not enough.

Clear water in a brilliant bowl,
Pink and white carnations. The light
In the room more like a snowy air,
Reflecting snow. A newly-fallen snow
At the end of winter when afternoons return.
Pink and white carnations – one desires
So much more than that. The day itself
Is simplified: a bowl of white,
Cold, a cold porcelain, low and round,
With nothing more than the carnations there.

Lisa Robertson has more recently made the weather into the subject of an epic. In an essay quoted by Sina Queyres, she frames weather as a sincere rhetoric: "But I’m interested in weather also because cultural displacement has shown me that weather is a rhetoric. Furthermore, it is the rhetoric of sincerity, falling in a soothing, familial vernacular. It’s expressed between friendly strangers. I speak it to you. A beautiful morning. You speak it back. The fog has lifted."

Because she doubts sincerity, she concludes her book with this: “Sincerity says that identity is moral. I need it to be a tent, not a cave, a rhetoric, not a value. There’s also the fact that my sex is a problem with sincerity. I want to move on. I want a viable climate. I’ll make it in description." But Robertson, like Stevens, uses the weather to mean something other than the weather. Perhaps she's only commenting on the fact that this has happened, but she pursues the weather's rhetoric with her own inside-out metaphoricity.

Doubtless there are books on this subject, but weather as human desire or rhetoric is not my theme. Rather, I want to think about some of Albert Saijo's very last notebooks, written when he was clearly quite weak. In the early 2000s, he'd still been writing at length on his obsessions: against CIV, for animal nature, in praise of weed and the simple life. By 2010 (approximately), he devoted himself to a single subject, the weather. He produced pages full of reports on the weather in Volcano, on the Big Island in Hawai`i. Here are some of his pages.

Day after day, he notes whether is it day or night, windy or not, rainy or not, whether the sky is clear and has stars in it. There's the water guy, who needs to be called, but again there is the out of doors, the moon. One note of commentary/critique is a sentence or two about white people: "THE ONLY HUMANS ARE WHITE," he notes acerbically. And then the weather starts up again.

At first, these notebooks read as diminishment. The poet, who once had so many thoughts, is now reduced to local weatherman. But what a faithfulness to the world these pages represent! Day by day, sometimes hour by hour, he notes a state of being that will inevitably change. Saijo's weather notebooks refuse even the haiku's oblique lessons, except for "quite beautiful," "still beautiful." He writes what he sees, and leaves it at that. No punch lines or comic strips, no rants or aphorisms.

This poetry of witness, if I may call it that, is pure meditation on that most basic of the world's conditions, the weather. It is one man, outside himself, taking notes. This is not a poetry of desire that comes out of poverty, nor is it a poetry that considers weather to be a form of rhetoric. There is only the wish to record--not in conversation, but in solitude. These notebooks are not conversation, but homage to the world outside the window, and the self.


Sina Queyres on Lisa Robertson, here.

Blog post #3 on the notebooks can be found here:

Blog post #1 on the notebooks here:

Albert Saijo's new Tinfish Press book, WOODRAT FLAT.

1 comment:

John B-R said...

To a degree, these remind me of Stephen Ratcliffe's Temporality project. But these are purer. I am going to buy Saijo's new book this week. I hope these notebooks become a book, too, tho you probably aren't the one to decide that. Happy new year, by the way. Hope all's well.