April 8, 2009

The Quotidian & Poetry: Beyond National Poetry Month

How does the quotidian figure in your work?

Chris Pusateri and I were asked this question while being interviewed/filmed for The Continental Review while in Paris. Chris and I were at Jennifer K. Dick's house, along with Lisa Pasold, George Vance, and Nick Manning, partaking in a kind of salon that included discussing poetry, drinking wine, and eating baguette, goat cheese, pâté, and George's delicious tart. In the background, from another flat on another floor, a crazy pianist, who rehearses approximately 12 hours a day and apparently doesn't stop to eat, played some tune. Ambient noise to accompany our discussion.

I cannot recall exactly what I said that evening, but I have been haunted by the question, okay, haunted might be too strong a word, but I have been hovering near/around the question ever since. Generally, I don't think that the everyday plays a large role in my work, though I could see how one could get that impression after reading Beloved Integer, as it is filled with mundane details. But perhaps, we should examine this word more closely; quotidian: the everyday, commonplace, daily, ordinary.

What is commonplace? After further reflection, it would seem that there are many quotidians, which depend completely on a person's position(s), perspective(s), point of view(s). If my day were filled with teaching students about Rosmarie Waldrop, then that would become my quotidian. If my day were filled with visiting museums and galleries, then paintings and art would emerge as ordinary.

In early March, I took the train from London to Cambridge to see JH Prynne give a lecture on Ezra Pound. To my surprise, he wasn't giving a lecture at all, but a recitation of Pound's poems. After the event, I had a look around Kettle's Yard, which was originally the home of Jim and Helen Ede (Jim was a former Tate gallery curator, and his home and art have been donated to the University of Cambridge). In order to get into this domicile, you must walk down a short covered passage and ring a bell before they unlock the door and let you in (it's slightly secretive and a bit intimidating). Once in, you must relinquish your bags and are informed that you may sit anywhere, except on the very old beds, and you aren't allowed to touch anything, save the books in the library. It is said that in the 50s and 60s, Jim would open his house to visitors in the afternoon and allow them to see his collection of early 20th century art. One interesting aspect of this "gallery" is that the art is not labeled or explained with wall plaques, though you can ask any of the docents for information, and the home is pretty much intact as the Edes left it: their furniture, books, China, and travel memorabilia (including a Chief seat from the Cook Islands--very small and low to the ground, but just high enough so the Chief's head is above everyone else's) are still present with Jim's art on the wall dispersed throughout the house. I gathered that Jim wanted art to be experienced as part of everyday life--among your things and memories, next to the cloudy window that needs washing or your favorite book with dog-eared pages--because much art is experienced in white-walled galleries "separate" from the quotidian. 

And this got me thinking...how do you make poetry more commonplace? I don't think it is necessarily in the topics you choose to write "about" but how you incorporate it in your life. So perhaps we can make poetry part of the commonplace/the everyday/the ordinary during National Poetry Month AND beyond... 

Read Howl in the grocery store this week while picking your fruit. Recite "The Red Wheelbarrow" while taking out the trash or doing the dishes. Post your favorite line of poetry on the fridge next to your kid's drawing. Write poems on a roll of unused toilet paper, then roll it back up for use. Instead of taking a smoking break at work, take a poetry break and read Dickinson in the smoking section. Write poems on sticky notes and post them in the tube/metro/subway, on a bus, in the back pocket of an airline chair (or better yet, inside the foldout table), or on stop signs. Photocopy excerpts of Anne Waldman's Makeup on Empty Space and place them in between newspapers in the dispenser when you get your morning paper.

Instead of thinking about how the quotidian figures in our work, maybe we could consider how our work figures in the quotidian...