Monday, October 29, 2012

Aimless Reading: The W's, Part 6 (Dana Ward)

This Can't Be Life
Ward, Dana
This Can't Be Life

Purchased online directly from the publisher, Edge Books.

I've met Dana on two occasions. The first time he came to a reading I gave at Xavier in Cincinnati in early 2009. Dana, myself, Norman and Alice Finkelstein, and Tyrone Williams went out for food and beers at a local pub afterwards. Dana and I sat next to each other in the booth and we hit it off instantly, gabbing away most of the night about everything from all the poets whose work we admired to living in older cities that have seen better days.

We got into a long discussion about a few lines in my poem, "A Crowning," which go like this:

Beneath the paving stones
More paving stones

To be pulled up
Into a version

The lines play off a Situationist slogan popular during the May '68 demonstrations in Paris. The original goes, "Beneath the paving stones -- the beach!" We had an interesting discussion about the meaning of both the original and the more world-weary twist I'd given it.

Dana conjures this conversation in a long poem from this book titled, "Typing Wild Speech." In his version, the conversation was not about the line in my poem so much as it was about me being critical of the youthful, utopian dreams buried beneath the stones in the original slogan. He claims that I called the slogan "frivolous."

It's interesting how two different people remember the same thing. I don't doubt that Dana heard something to this effect coming from me, but neither do I recall having said or implied that meaning. And there is a key omission to his version of the events which I think calls into question the recollection: the poem.

When Dana says, "the violence required to effect a wished-for sea-change & the violence used forever to maintain the status quo," this seems to me a reading of these lines, yet he never lets the reader know that we are actually talking not about my ideas in relation to Situationism, but rather about the meaning of four lines in a poem I'd written.

In the absence of the poem and also of the context of the complex relationship between the words on the page and their author, it leaves one with the impression that I am being critical of Dana's "frivolous" love of the Situationists' famous slogan.

But how do you argue with someone's subjective impression of an event?

Ultimately, his is less a poem about ideas than it is about the speaker's attempts to understand the suicide of a close friend. In the same passage, he uses a line from another poem of mine, "A Note on Utopia," that reads, "it/burns a deep hole/inside me that is all," as a springboard out of our conversation and back into mourning the loss of his friend. Ultimately, our meeting plays a small part amid the larger concerns voiced in the poem.

The second time we met also makes an appearance in the book, this time in the opening poem. A month or so after my reading in Cincinnati, someone, possibly Anselm Berrigan, was supposed to have read with Tisa  Bryant in the small press poetry series in Buffalo, but had to cancel at the last minute. Dana agreed to come read in his stead.

We spent the afternoon of the reading following the familiar visitors trail to Niagara Falls and Robert Creeley's firehouse, ending up at a sushi place on Elmwood. Having done this tour so many times with other writers, I don't really have a clear memory of much of the day other than that it happened in much the same way it did a hundred times before.

"Habit is a great deadener," says Beckett.

In Dana's memory, the scene at the Sushi place was a site of humiliation. Apparently, he didn't eat sushi often, so I helped him order and showed him how to use chopsticks more effectively. Nonetheless, he says, "I ended up sneaking it into my mouth with my fingers when I thought they weren't looking. It occurred to me that this part of the reading was about improvisatory parenting."

There seems to be a pattern developing here. In the first poem I "unwittingly scolded" Dana when we discussed the Situationists and now in this poem I am "unwittingly" engaged in "improvisatory parenting." Tisa collaborates by helping Dana put on his seatbelt.

In both cases the speaker sets himself up as a child or innocent "unwittingly" thrown into a world of adults who want to disabuse him of his illusions, what he calls in the first poem, "the silvery lights." I have no truck with holding on to one's childhood, but I am less keen on being set up as the scolding, possibly even abusive, parent, who tries to take it away.

But how do you argue with someone's subjective impressions of an event?

Here's a link to a recording on Dana reading "Typing Wild Speech" in its entirety.

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