Jos Charles on "Seagull, Tiny"

Seagull, Tiny

The villagers are
watchful 

in their booths at
boston market

The boys living on
sulfur

and talking about
feelings

and memory   The
united states

is the collective
process of

demanding feelings
and a certain

memory   I would live
on synthetics 

but i hate fragility
Lonely and afraid,

my women sing, there
is no father

in me   They talk about
anything

a limit allows   There
is hope

of forgiveness, but
my american

corpse has been such
a disappointment

I would live on
feeling safe

and   spilling   secrets
It is confusing

the plain people
passing

like potato blossoms
When i first

met a trans person at
age 7

she served us mashed
potatoes

at boston market
Mother winced

and statistically it's
unlikely she

kept the job
I am worthy

of eating food i tell
myself   There

is some hope of
forgiveness

for boys   I would live
on their plastic

It is confusing that
words trick us

  

On "Seagull, Tiny": Confessionalism, Documentation, Approximity

Just as a documentarian hasn't effaced a viewpoint just by having a pretense to "fly-on-the-wall" observation, so the poet hasn't effaced an "I," even if it never shows up in a poem. We all go home to the editing room. That doesn't mean one can't point or indicate, or even arrive at something like a fact. What interests me in poetry though, in the project of poetry here and now, isn't the truth of the fact. I don't know if poetry is or isn't suited to it, if that's the right question, but I do know there is no 'raw dissemination of fact' in poetry, or rather its facts are 'poetic' (just as the most well-sourced documentary is "cinematic"). Which is a way of saying I doubt we can arrive at 'things themselves' anywhere—let alone in a poem—but rather, we arrive, at best, at a thing, poetically.

Likewise I don't know about I's, about confession. It's old news that the I isn't self-transparent. That, yes, we hold the camera, manipulate, but also we aren't implicated in only our own I, our individual neuroses alone. There is power, race, class, ability, gender, sexuality, and all the other ways this I bleeds out, historically, now, ahead of itself. There is my anger, my tiredness, my being taken advantage of, giving, rescinding, putting down or away, forgetting, but also an audience, production, movement, the land, all we do, that is left to be done, all those hands.

A well-done documentation or confession, poetic or otherwise, presumably accounts for this, aims for transparency about its object and limits, in addition to having other qualities. I have nothing against this—witness poetry, for instance, has done things, is doing things—and I am not in the business of prescribing poetics. But rather I make these reductions to point to something else that interests me in poetry, as an object: the movement or relation of the two—their institutionality, structure, responsibility to each other, relation. I mean truth neither as an object of witness—a kind of materialist hard truth—nor the soft truth of an I's transparency (or lack thereof) to itself, but as phenomena, as they relate.

One way to try to get to this for me is on the level of the poetic turn. A line like "statistically / it's / unlikely she // kept the job. i am / worthy // of eating food, i tell / myself" functions not as self-appointed metaphor (not eating food is likened to getting fired) nor raw observation (the food, the statistic, the work in itself), but the movement from image and/to image, statistic fact and/to an I. The impulse for a turn like this, for me, is not to show one a thing like another, but to make of each thing nothing, to render them useless, and to be left with the movement between them alone. The emphasis is neither the verifiability nor "journey" of the poem.

In that gesture, I feel, we open up these two things—the statistical reality that this trans woman most likely lost her job or worse—and my/the speaker having to convince themself to eat food. By turning from one to the other it calls attention to how we got here, opening up a number of possible connections—the (aptly named Boston) market, how women thin, or are told its results enviable, capitalism as thinning, the service industry's relation to transness, transness as both available and not to certain kinds of 'service,' at what cost, to work one's own body and labor to worth, the way events snowball to a self, and so on. The poetics is in this approximity, the rubbing of two things against one another, discrete but related, and chopped across a line, to get at something outside either.

In this work as others I would hope people find other redeemable qualities—the look of it, its ideas, sonics, form, and all those traditionally poetic things. In this section for instance we have short lines that slow down the reader even as it turns quickly, the reference visually the line has to Twitter or Facebook chat, the publicly performed vulnerability that entails, and the enjambment that opens up these turns further ("unlikely she"). Likewise, I don't think it improbable to find precedent for such quick poetic turns in say the "things themselves" of an Oppen or "confessional I" of a Plath. Rather I mean to outline how one "in" for poems like these is neither through confessionalism nor witness, but through their approximity to each other.

 

 

 
 

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