Monday, October 22, 2012

The lines that follow me

There are lines of poetry that follow me around. Most of the time these lines roost quietly in the attic, making little flitters and flutters and sighs, but occasionally one or more awake with a rush and fury of wingflaps, an insistent rhythm refusing to be ignored.

If not in yours
                        In whose
In whose language
                               Am I
If not in yours
M. NourbeSe Philip

is my mother tongue.
A mother tongue is not
not a foreign lan lan lang
--a foreign anguish.
M. NourbeSe Philip

Some of these lines insist on a response. The manuscript of my thesis project was almost entirely driven by these two quotes from NourbeSe Philip repeating in my head, a refrain cradling almost every poem I wrote for over two years.

Steady brown hand on a Stanley knife,
she cut me--expertly--out of her life;
Ken Babstock

What, me, guard sheep?
I made that up; this is poetry.
Eirin Moure
My memory is not very visual. It's probably not a coincidence that these lines are all lines I have heard read, that they echo in the voice of the writer/reader. The Erin Moure quote I desperately want tattooed across my collarbones; I feel it is a kind of mission statement, the poetics of my life expertly expressed in two little lines at the beginning of Sheep's Vigil by a Fervent Person. I have not done it yet, mostly because I wonder what Erin would think.

I've been thinking about this post since I told Ken Babstock about his line that follows me. When he asked me what line, I hesitated: what if I had been misremembering it all that time? What if I had it wrong, wouldn't that be embarrassing.

But I told him, because as a writer I know that having a line lodge in someone's head, to have it reverberate with a person over time, is one of the real hopes of poetry. Even if the line is changed, that it resonated with someone really means that language was made dynamic, that it connected and incited thought or emotion.

What I didn't say, but kind of wish I had, was that it is very likely I will steal this line at some point. "Literary allusion" or "plagiarism" or whatever you want to call it, it's poetry's version of a cover song, acknowledging influences; repossessing the possession.

Come live with me and be my love
Christopher Marlowe

This is one of those rare lines that I don't like, but that persists like an earworm. The wonderful thing about Marlowe is that I mildly shocked a high school teacher by declaring that the poem was actually about prostitution. Petite madeleines drawing me back towards formative moments. Part of the power is from my own reminiscence and nostalgia about the moments when I read those lines.

In my dreams you're alive and you're crying.
Neutral Milk Hotel

I wonder if this is what ghosts are: fragments of language or sound or sight or smell that integrate themselves into our psyche, becoming active memories that sometimes fade into background static and sometimes infringe on our sensual interaction with the world. Lines that never completely disappear, that shape my world through their hauntings.

to let none of us go missing without a fuss
Margaret Christakos

1 comment:

  1. i am not an expert at poetry, but the one line that has always stuck with me, for years and years is a line from Stan Rice's SOME LAMB.

    "and the rain was brain-coloured
    and the thunder sounded like something
    remembering something"

    which is certainly not very sophisticated, but the vagueness of the "something" means anything, which I find kind of wonderful.