Friday, June 15, 2007

The Weather is Happening All Around Us by Kathleen Miller, Delirium Press, 2006

“For we, we know who we are” is the beginning of The Weather is Happening All Around Us which, if it is not the most charming chapbook and most persuasive of first books ever published, is certainly right up there. We wonder as we read who this we is but, right off, we feel included and implicated. “Several of we are getting chosen.” We learn and “Several of we are getting sick.” In this context “we” seems able to apply to the clouds, to the birds and to the “living characters of the road.” There is a liveliness to the components of the poem – the words, the images, the ideas – that allows them and us to be nested and framed into this mysterious “we.” The situation is amusing but dangerous. There is an inappropriately direct but invigorating exchange between “we” and the world.

“Outside the air is giving the trees asthma, the flowers
Are bluing.”

The sense of wonder and straightforwardness here is refreshing. The sense of impending or on-going disaster seems congruent with one's experience. The view is pleasantly and edifyingly dystopic.

“The windows always shake during this time of day, wishing for more earthquakes.”

The details are familiar to we of California. Satisfyingly, as promised by the title, there is a lot of weather in the book. A text of clouds runs along the bottom margin and then there are more clouds, along with photos, in the Field Notes section which is lovingly illustrated. Here “we” is explained.

“[What we mean when we say we. Forms of we. Communal we. The royal we. We that live in one place or another. We that live next to beneath among above freeways. The freeways as we, as having limbs. An implied we. We as location, as locomotive. We transportation. We locale. We weather.]”

And yet, can “we” ever be fully explained? “There is uncertainty in the pace of everyday”

Ah, A Tonalist doubt – succinctly expressed, gracefully parsed. (Parenthetically I will claim that A Tonalist doubt is not skepticism though I am not sure I can prove that. The present context of wonder yet worry suggests that while there is fear – and who of "we" should not be afraid? there is not cynicism. More on this and on Andrew & Brent’s comments soon.) Or as Kathleen wisely writes:

“We can feel it in our lungs
We can feel it in our stomach.
We can feel it in our toes.
Is it in the air? Is it in the water?”

There is frailty, disaster and lightness -- emptiness and the sublime. The book is as simple, elegant and compelling as a breakthrough equation.

“wings breaking against the glass to let in some air.”

Part of the poem, for those of you who want to read it right away, is in Bay Poetics. (You do have your copy, yes?) Delirium Press is the publisher of this chapbook and it is very beautifully done. The Weather is Happening All Around Us by Kathleen Miller was the winner of the Delirium Press Poetry Chapbook Contest judged by Matthea Harvey who comments

“This is dizzying and deep work – the kind that makes you watch where you’re going.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Laura Moriarty

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Laura, in your sympathetic yet incisive commentary on my Cry, you ask “whether A Tonalist is the same as Surrealism,” and go on to say “There is a commonality––though the doubt and sense of ambiguity that are key to A Tonalist might make the celebration of the marvelous that is so important to surrealism difficult…” This difficulty may be resolved if one considers that the apparition of the marvellous in Surrealism is always the result of ecstatic doubt, of the vertiginous realization that the elements of reality don’t “add up,” that, in other words, reality can never be reconciled to itself. It is only through the fault lines of, the ruptures of, unreconciled reality that the marvellous finally emerges.

The works of Marcel Duchamp, in particular his Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even, provide one example of a hinge between A Tonalist skepticism and Surrealist enthusiasm. Here, vertiginous Desire is at once celebrated and, by means of the baroque mediations of the Large Glass, alienated from itself.

Uniquely among the modernisms, Surrealism has practiced an art of the neither/nor, situated precisely at the zone of interchange between universes of discourse (beginning with the twilight zone between figurative and abstract). A Tonalist practice also situates itself in the zone of this neither/nor (which is also of course a zone of both/and). There's a slightly different balance of forces (A Tonalist practice being weighted toward the skeptical, and Surrealist toward the enthusiastic; nonetheless, both are involved in the agonistic embrace of Other).

Desire is the rapturous study of distance.