Katherine Browning

Winner of the Louise Louis/Emily F. Bourne Student Award in 2006

to discover the cartography of blankness

I've recently acquired a style of writing (burnished it into being)
     that snakes like a twisting serpent down the
page: aided by parenthesis and semicolon, disappearing for a
     moment

when the paragraph changes like some great jungle cat that slips
     behind a tree. It never quite goes where
you're expecting; a skip's inserted like a linebreak

so that I'm still not sure whether to call this prose or poetry or
     something in-between (a teacher of Greek who
once taught me—and will again this summer—had a word for it,

or rather for the great, sprawling poems of Hesiod and Homer:
     proem, and may its coinage bear us both to sit
among the Muses as the ancient poets do). It is more modern a
     form than not,
however classical its content, natu more machina than dea (alas
     for Vergil): hand-crafted in that
quintessentially modern way that took the verb rescribo out of  
     language, or would have

if the Romans (eheu fugaces labuntur anni, labuntur Romani) had
     not been dead ten centuries, ten score of
centuries; instead we have the word rewrite which has come to
     mean

that essentially artistic process of adding a comma here, a
     synonym there: deleting even entire paragraphs
because thank the Lord (Bill Gates) you can do that now

without the theft of secretaries from their crying, imperious
     children and crease-faced husbands and footbaths
filled with steaming water (and if that order's off, the bath stays
     at the end:

longest-deferred, most eagerly-awaited) to retype the last damn
     sixty pages of your doctoral thesis: and your
career in academia's been saved (by Mr. Gates, that college
     drop-out),

because if it had meant any more work at this point, you would
     have said to Hell with it, all of it, and tossed
the whole damn ream-and-a-half in a convenient trashcan—

and Sesame Street, you think, had one thing right: if anything's
     going to come popping out of that trash can
later, to talk back at you, it's a hell of a lot more likely to be Oscar
     the Grouch

than your thesis, though god knows it has a (grouchy-enough)
     voice of its own by now, nasal and New-Jersey
accented and just. You hate people from New Jersey, you tell me,
inimitably, cheerfully and perennially a snob: and I realize that
     Oh god
—not le bon Gates this time—it's me,
this is who I'll be in twenty years—no, ten—no, five—talking to
     myself, the Ghost of Christmas Past,

watching my
(former) self with the bitter eyes of a hungry tiger, the
     tiger who stalks up and down between,
behind, in front of the concealing tree-trunks of the jungle, the
     menacing foggy blankness

of the paper, which swallows both you and I and we and me and
     myself, all one of us, and (once again like
Homer) I am blind before it, catching blindly to the beast

of my subconscious (to its tail) and trusting it to blaze me a trail,
     make tracks of ink-black impeccability
around the trees outlined in white upon this pristine wilderness.
     Let us make a song,

let it wind around itself, its listeners, like a fugue, and delineate
     by its absences the long white rows (tall white
columns of birches) upon the paper, draw us a map

of the no-man's land that you and I and we all strive to avoid,
     writing (and running away from) our theses and
essays and poems whose contours must all be drawn upon, drawn
     from

the pristine wilderness (a sheet of paper) in (my finest hand, Joni
     Mitchell sings, that golden child of
Woodstock: too golden-young to ever have known white, that
     paralyzing white

like snow, snow that never dared show its face while those
     ephemeral perennial days lasted and lasted on)
some style of writing or another; anthropomorphize that how you
      will.
line

Prageeta Sharma on Katherine Browning

In "to discover the cartography of blankness" the speaker confronts a "new style of writing that snakes like a twisting serpent." Certainly, the speaker calls attention to this style all the way through by enacting it in the poem as well as problematizing it. The poem seems to me a combination of a "sprawling" couplet and yet the promisingly full experience of open verse: full of excess, long lines culminating in twists and bends; yet still coveting an internal rhyme—a formalism the speaker relies on.

While parts of this poem explore a fun, lofty voice—I find the speaker happily exploring the confines of the page and the excitement of meandering, topically, all of the problems with self-expression. The poem combines Ginsberg with Pound, the "student thesis" with Microsoft, and all of the poets it can think up along the way (Homer, Hesiod, and Vergil). It was so much fun to find this voice which seems unafraid of where it travels and where (through writing) it will go next.

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