Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Susana Among the Brackets

RK: Hi Susana,
One thing I wrung my hands about in describing [lapsed insel weary] is the recurring use of brackets. The punctuation does a kind of violence to the lines by disrupting the ordinary flow of the syntax, closing off the phrase inside and putting it into an adversarial relationship with the rest of the sentence. At the same time, the brackets allow the phrasal units to connect in a looser, more modular way, opening up shifting semantic possibilities you can’t achieve with workaday syntax. By the time we get to that great coda at the end, where there’s nothing that’s not inside a bracket, the tissue connecting the phrases comes closer to music than standard grammar, working the way leitmotifs do.

How do the brackets function in your poems, and what did you hope to convey with their use?

Susana Gardner: First off, it is all so interesting in hindsight, the creation of a volume. What makes the volume speak, so to speak. This book has existed in various incarnations, but I was not happy with, say, the ms. of eight or so years ago. Especially as it was brought together in its initial castings, as Slant Light (my MFA thesis), or with its original title, which was nixed by some advisors, etc. The final title is heavily Dickinsonian and in that way is another harbinger of the Victorian that does haunt much of this ms., especially when rethinking the work as a whole, revising again and again, deciding what was worth keeping and what I should just chuck out as craft and/or practice.

The sequence “To Stand To Sea” was written the year following my MFA. Many changes were made to the poems which were kept. I studied with Kaia Sand, one of The Tangent Press co-editors, and she and her partner, Jules Boykoff, have provided an amazing amount of support and guidance in the entire process and its completion in this work.

The bracket came somewhat later, and initially as a way of keeping time (which I am notoriously poor at in the day-to-day!). But whenever I have done readings, it was always a natural thing or tool for me to, say, put musical markings alongside lines, indicating stress or rests: half notes, full stops, longer rests, etc. The movements also indicated passage of time, in subject as well as in departure.

But this is all in retrospect, as it came to be organically, through many revisions and re-workings. Of course, the closing “score” or CODA is certainly aware of this, and this is almost a legend or guide for those who make it to the end (as well as indicative of a repeat.) Once there, one might muse or go back as having finally “gotten” it.

Geraldine Monk, who contributed a blurb, described the brackets—as well as the spacing in “To Stand to Sea”—as islands denoting and reifying the isolation, despair, and hope that’s apparent there. But the bracket certainly creates discomfort and has an illogical quality for some. Recently, a reader stated that he was angry with the brackets throughout, and had a hard time reading them until he came to the end, when suddenly they made sense. This was great to hear, not just that the brackets made eventual sense, but that at first they pissed him off! At my last reading, in Basel, a listener actually walked out. I felt a strange thrill at that and then laughed and announced to the rest of the kind audience: “Just remember, it doesn’t have to make sense.” Laughter followed.

Of course, I didn’t set out to make the work messy for others, but to indicate my own constant struggle with words and their place with (and in) time and reading; my thrill with things that do not necessarily make outright sense (first language, or poetry itself AS language); and the effort to find ways of expressing oneself other than the easy first-person narrative (yawn!) that long made my own work an anomaly among my peers. The very strange musical, mathematical substance and sustenance which makes for good poetry, to my mind, is the open page as well as the ear, and the writer’s allowance for chance and possibility.

1 comment:

Sandra Simonds said...

I can't wait to get her book.