Hello, Insomnia (2)

by sophie

…..Nighthawks, Nightowls, the star-gazers, the moonstruck. My sisters of deserted highways, brothers of stumbling walks at sunrise, where are you? For a period of five years or so, ages 18-22, there was always someone else awake or willing to be woken. For a long time too, I was used to being awake alone in the depth of night, sleeping maybe four or five hours a night on a regular basis and functioning (arguably) with a fair measure of productivity. Night was a time that made sense, it was expansive. I’m not used to it anymore though. Insomnia jangles me, particularly when it’s two nights in a row now, with not a drop of drowsiness well past 4 a.m. Perhaps it’s the results of an equation : finishing two graduate applications to CalArts + looking repeatedly at a number of old photographs for the portfolio portion of my application to photography = a deepening sense of the past as past i.e. the present insomnia. Plus I guess that cup of coffee I drank around 10 p.m.

…. I ended up writing my response essay for Columbia about Noelle Kocot’s Poem for the End of Time and Other Poems. I won’t include the whole thing here, but here’s a few fragments I think are interesting (bear with me, the spacing is all fucked up, and I’m too loopy to figure out how to fix it):

Repetition is a common impulse. In everyday life, we repeat to learn, to be clear, and to make sense of things, among dozens of other conscious and unconscious reasons. In Kocot’s book, one task of repetitions is to illuminate a process of grief. Why is repetition important to grieving? Perhaps repetition tries to change the unchangeable, to rearrange the facts, to remake associations, and to create a ladder one might use to climb between mourning and the living world. “Song,” the first poem of the collection, is a poem of only thirteen lines, four of which are repeated, and two of which are variations of the other. The lines, “And for that which is not said/ And for that which is already said,” set up an inevitability: the rest of the book. As Kocot reveals this poem to be dedicated to an absence in the second stanza, with “I slip between the corners of the wind / And drink to remember you,” one might read “Song” as a sonnet with an absent line. In this line of thinking, “And for that which is not said” would be the turn, recognizing there is much yet unsaid and perhaps, there begins the book’s attempt to say it. In “I Am Like A Desert Owl, An Owl Among The Ruins,” Kocot begins to gesture toward the larger possibilities of repetition. In the move of a stanza, the speaker turns from an interior, personal reflection to an exterior, then mythic association:

I asked myself, don’t you just love it?
And then, why don’t’ you just love it?

And then, from what grace have I fallen?
Am I Sisyphus with his mute rock

This movement is akin to the sights of a movie camera starting from the position of being focused on the palm of a single person, then zooming outwards, until at last the whole city below is visible.

* * * *

So what is it, besides blunt mourning, that so many of Kocot’s “un-narrative” poems seem to avoid? In Tony Hoagland’s 2006 article “Fear of Narrative and the Skittery Poem of Our Moment,” he writes:

The speedy conceptuality which characterizes much contemporary poetry prefers the dance of multiple perspectives to sustained participation. It hesitates to enter a point of view that cannot easily be altered or quickly escaped from. It would prefer to remain skeptical…… one might say that it prefers knowing to feeling.

It seems many of Kocot’s poems also prefer knowing to feeling. However, what sets this collection apart from the popular school of what Hoagland deems dissociative poetry, is that with the thread of grief tying these poems together, the collection articulates an understandable argument against expressing too much feeling. A stanza from “Palm Sunday” exemplifies this sensibility:

Words wait to be filled, as if they could
Digest their meanings’ absences
without the call of being loved or understood.

Language existing with “meanings’ absences,” read in a solely cerebral mode, is safe. It does not require the reader, or the author, to reveal themselves, or to be moved as one might be by a more emotive language. By writing predominately in a dissociative mode, Kocot sets loose an imaginative playfulness somersaulting over the facts of loss: this method is a way of coping. In “Way Ahead of the Game,” Kocot writes, “I’m told everyone is writing poems about stones. / Arborescent quarantine, I speak you only.” “Arborescent,” a term coined by the French philosophers Deleuze and Guattari, is basically used to describe “unidirectional progress, with no possible retroactivity.” More than simple gallows humor, the dissociative method is a refusal of closure: instead of composing distanced elegies, Kocot writes into the dead.

[End of essay fragments. And now you have a link to an extremely interesting article by Tony Hoagland.]

….My cat is speaking to me now. This definitely implies bedtime. “Fool,” she says “get your tuchis into bed. If you worked at sleeping as much as you worked at memory, you’d be a deeply well-rested woman.”

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