Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Don't Stop: Rambling about Ponemes and Emily Kendal Frey's Sorrow Arrow

A while ago Elisa Gabbert posted this thing on her blog about units of poetry: the poneme:

Being an amateur linguistics nerd and full-time poetry nerd, I fully support this idea. It will be a really useful word in workshops or just normal poetry discussion. Calling part of a poem a move or trick, belittles the effort of the poet. Poneme seems to add legitimacy to the poem and poet, and can add some specificity to discussions of poems.
Originally this post was going to be about Emily Kendal Frey's poems in Pinwheel. For a few days, the post was titled, Don't Stop, and the body just said: write about emily kendal frey. The reason for it was the joy I got when reading her poems, the way the poems reminded me of the poems I used to write, and made me ask, why did I ever stop writing poems like this?
Most of the poems I write come out of a very specific experience. The most recent of my poems published was in Five Quarterly. It's about a couple who are both spies, who keep secrets from each other because of the necessity of their jobs and because that's what couples do: they keep secrets. The impetus came from watching an episode of Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations. I believe it was an episode in Uzbekistan and Tony is standing on a balcony, looking out at the middle east, and talking about being a spy. Even though it has a very Mr. & Mrs. Smith feel to it, I didn't think of that until later.

The poneme used in Emily's poems, from Sorrow Arrow, is one that I have also used. In Sorrow Arrow, the seemingly random lines are stacked on top of each other with no syntactical or contextual relation to lines above and lines below.

It's raining like a bitchy teenager

Spit on the carpet

I want to be your mom a little

Scars on our foreheads

The lines are not ordered in stanzas, but are mono-stitched. Seeing that these are also from a larger work and are not a single poem and are not single poems themselves, the lines become even more important. Each line is an aphorism or 100 calorie snack or bullet shot straight ahead. Line after line of random line until:

I took a walk to a nearby mountain and breathed against the gates of a reservoir

Have you heard about the Hadron Collider?

They smash particles together to find new matter

Once the machine got going so fast the currents blew out

With nowhere to go

I’m trying to believe in forgiveness
Those random lines suddenly explode into connected information, connected ligaments, a limb capable of moving segments both before and after the connection. The suddenness is important. If we expected this, it wouldn't have surprised us. The connection also makes us believe that there are more and more possible connections and see the random lines not as random, but as beautiful possible connections to invisible information. The proceeding random lines give us hope for connection later down the road and forces us to reconsider preceding lines which seemed so random.
The poneme demonstrated above: random lines suddenly gaining connections through context and/or syntax.
I'm still left with my question, why did I ever stop writing poems like this? I thought for awhile that those were poems that came out of a specific time in my life and were related to a specific process and I couldn't re-write them. I don't want that to be true anymore. I want to write poems like these again.
This is all just to say, I love these poems by Emily Kendal Frey and you should read them.

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