JOHN BLOOMBERG-RISSMAN Reviews
“consider my dear” from aaaaaaaaaaaalice by Jennifer Karmin
(flim forum press, n.p, 2010)
consider my dear
built in 1910
if you can’t
some people say
a man was walking
thoughts a day
sound of close eyes
she is only a child
First of all, I am assuming that “consider my dear” is a poem, though it could be part of a longer poem called “HELLO”, while it is just as possible that “HELLO” could be part of a longer poem called aaaaaaaaaaaalice. I find it impossible to tell. “HELLO” has some significance: there is a horizontal band of words running from the back to the front cover, and these words are replicated inside the book on the recto of otherwise blank pages. HELLO is one these words. But, since the formatting of the entire book is virtually the same from beginning to end it’s hard to tell what signifies what: the versos contain what might be self-sufficient poems, since each is headed by a bolded line and concluded by a bolded bit (one line or several), and seem to support, tho not necessitate, individual readings; the rectos contain italicized text, which are not headed, and which present the same “problems” as the rectos. This book presents mereological conundrums. “consider my dear” is one of the bolded-at-top-and-bottom bits/poems, and is found on the verso of the page with HELLO on it. I will treat it as a separate poem. Which makes me nervous. But which might just be ok, since WC Williams’ “the red wheelbarrow” is treated (and has become famous) as a separate poem, tho it is really (also?) just a little section of Spring and All.
By the way, none of the blurbists for the book (I have a sheet from the publisher entitled “praise for Jennifer Karmin’s aaaaaaaaaaaalice”, which contains bits from Bernadette Mayer, Charles Bernstein, Pierre Joris, and Vanessa Place) are of much help here; in fact, neither Mayer nor Bernstein nor Joris have anything concrete to say at all. Only Place offers a suggestion: that perhaps it is the White Rabbit who is leading the chase … In which case aaaaaaaaaaaalice may be Alice’s name stretched out into a falling-down-the-rabbit-hole sound. I will actually make some use of this Wonderland-y suggestion.
“consider my dear” is a list poem. Each stanza could be considered something to be considered by “my dear”. Or, since there is no comma between “consider” and “my dear”, they could be read as descriptors, so to speak (in a Tender Buttons-ish sense, perhaps?) of “my dear”, and we, the readers are being asked to consider the author and/or narrator’s dear. This latter reading is somehow potentially reinforced by the last (also bolded) line, which reads “she is only a child”. I tend to think the first option makes for a better reading.
The first stanza reads: “things / to learn / and why”. That would seem to reinforce the first reading, that this is an “advice” poem”.
If Place is right (and can there be such a thing as a trustworthy guide once we’re down the rabbit hole?), then, perhaps the White Rabbit is offering Alice some advice, since “she is only a child”. But strange advice it is, if it is. But I guess that’s only to be expected.
“see / a schoolhouse / built in 1910”. This would be exceedingly peculiar advice for a 19th century White Rabbit to give. But not if the White Rabbit and Alice and the whole adventure were taking place inside the author’s head, so to speak, dialogistically.
I think this reading is in part borne out by the following stanza, which also offer a response to the first stanza’s “and why”: “writing / as practice / everyday”. If one is to engage in daily writing practice, a reasonable imperative might well be “see”. See what? What’s right in front of you. Which might well be a schoolhouse built in 1910.
The next stanza reads: “how to / give love”. Which may follow from a daily writing practice: if you can see things that are in front of you, and if you can find an everyday practice to keep you focused on the present, perhaps you will have learned to, perhaps you will have learned how to begin to, give love. This does not at all seem like a stretched reading to me. In fact, my own experience, for what its worth, is that the most important rule in giving love is to stay present.
“if you can’t / go over / go under”. Now, I could well be reading in a way that’s a bit too linear. But this also follows. If you want to give love, if you want to write everyday, you have to be flexible, quick, adept at adjusting preconceptions, etc etc. As Roethke put it (memory quote), the “I” has to “learn by going where I have to go.”
Even if my reading is too linear, “if you can’t / go over / go under” is still damn good advice.
“chaos / is always / apparent”. Some synonyms for “apparent”: illusory, ostensible, possible, specious, superficial, supposed … so: let’s assume for a second that “chaos / is always / apparent” means something like: at first glance, all one can see is chaos, all one always sees is chaos, but the chaos is only the way things first appear. In other words, it is always true that “if you can’t / go over / [you can] go under”.
“some people say / curious things”: also always true, but once one has got this far in one’s lesson in staying-present, and in seeing through chaos, well, the fact that ““some people say / curious things” becomes no more affectively overpowering that the 1910 schoolhouse. It is just one more thing to learn how to love, etc.
“yesterday / a man was walking”. Yes! Now we’re getting somewhere. We are learning our lessons. “Yesterday a man was walking”. We are engaging in our daily writing/loving practice.
The next stanza reinforces this: “how many / thoughts a day / we write”.
So does the next: which has a sort of zennish “sound-of-one-hand-clapping” feel “hear silence / sound of close eyes”. It’s not closed eyes, it’s close eyes. If you’re present enough you can answer the Koan, what’s the sound of eyes closing?
But then we end with “she is only a child”. If the White Rabbit, so to speak, is acting as Alice’s guru, this line is sotto voce, and not for Alice’s ears. It could mean one of two things: 1) she has so much to learn; 2) this will keep her calm for a while. The latter would indicate that there are aspects of experience learning how to love, how to have a practice, can’t “protect” one from. I believe that both are true. We all have so much to learn. And: sometimes the life-life still overwhelms. I googled “Buddhist grieving process”: 42,000 hits (it didn’t have to be Buddhist; substitute Christian and the number goes up to 260,000 …). There’s only one ticket price for this ride, and it’s full.
Nevertheless, the White Rabbit, so to speak, offers much good advice.
[Editor’s Note: This is one of 50 reviews written, mas o menos, in 50 days. While each engagement can be read on a stand-alone basis, there’s a layer of watching the critic’s subjectivity arise in a fulsome manner if the reviews are read one after another. So if you have insomnia and/or are curious about this layer, I suggest you read the 50 reviews right after each other and, to facilitate this type of reading, I will put at the bottom of each review a “NEXT” button that will take you to the next review. To wit: NEXT. And an Afterword on John's reading process is also available HERE!]
John Bloomberg-Rissman is somewhere towards middle of In the House of the Hangman, the third section of his maybe life project called Zeitgeist Spam (picture Hannah Hoch painting over the Sistine Chapel) The first two volumes have been published: No Sounds of My Own Making, and Flux, Clot & Froth. In addition to his Zeitgeist Spam project, he has edited or co-edited two anthologies, 1000 Views of 'Girl Singing' and The Chained Hay(na)ku Project, and is at work on a third, which he is editing with Jerome Rothenberg. He is also deep into two important collaborations, one with Richard Lopez, one with Anne Gorrick. By important he means "important to him". Anyone else want to collaborate? He blogs at Zeitgeist Spam.