Disruptive Juxtaposition

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Communication, difficulty of

At the Tea Lounge, Brooklyn NY. Not as many moms with thick-rimmed glasses and precocious children as I feared there'd be.

Speaking of children, man, dig this. It's unbelieveable. I was brought rudely back to consciousness this morning by what surely had to be a team of roller-blading hockey players practicing on the wooden floor of the room above me. These would be the children of the families who live above me. Attempts to keep my anger in check failed, as did my resolve to not go upstairs and do a little conflict resolution. It turned out, once I got to the top of the stairs, that the room that lies directly above mine is the goddamn play room of the kids who live there. As I stood there, pondering my luck, the door to that room opened a little farther to reveal a tow-headed little scamp with the locomotive of a great big plastic train in his hand - that's what had been moving deafeningly over the floor, again and again, in a infinite circuit - and on spotting me he said (I still cannot believe this), in perfect English with the five-beat sing-song melody of International Mockery* "You can't get me", with the word "can't" getting the correct rhythmic two-note treatment and everything. Then his grandmother came out from the hallway and it very quickly became clear that my limited Spanish wasn't enough and that she had no English. Now, that's alright: what can you do? But what stuck in my mind about it was the quick way she sort of brushed aside the whole issue of my impromptu, sleep-addled visit; once she'd determined that our language barrier was a high one, she sort of wrote off the experience instantly. It was a little depressing, that moment, because difficulty in communicating is one thing, but the complete resignation to and acceptance of that difficulty - which is the step that makes something difficult into something impossible - is quite another.

I think that one of the reasons I struggled with fiction - in the estimation of some of my peers and myself - is that I really am approaching the task of fiction from a poet's point of view. For example, I started writing a section about Effie Land, who'll become Richard's wife, by detailing this fight that Effie had with her mother when she was a young woman; the section dwelled at length on the angles that existed between the two of them over this one very long second when the fight was thrown into a very tense pause due to something Effie very purposefully said. I wax philosophical about what that stare implies; I liken the act of that staring to the long, agonizing zoom-in by which the camera pulls in on the vacant eye of the just-murdered Janet Leigh in Psycho; et cetera ad nauseum. This and moments like this are summarizable as or comparable to the shorthand difference we use in discussing poetry regarding lyric vs narrative work. Lyrics are more interested in examining the implications of a single (or a brief) moment; they take one little jewel and look at its many facets. Narratives alternatively sort of scan the vanity and the armoire, and look at certain valuable baubles, but keep moving from object to object and move on to what's on the dresser and suddenly of course there's a hand there selecting a piece to don for the day - narratives pan and exist in time, lyrics are a series of still lifes overlaid on one another. Now, I do write primarily narrative poetry, but its narrative poetry that established narrative poets like my ex-prof have confessed to being unable to "track". I.e. my narrative work confuses narrative poets. That could mean that I'm complicating the narrative approach with a lyrical one, and that the poems I'm trying to write try to hit the limit of what's typically "lyric" and typically "narrative." Upshot for my writing fiction, of course, is that I'll have to shy a bit more from the lyrical openings, the Rick Moody-like ruminations on gesture and object - not because there's no room for that approach, and not because "it's been done," but because that approach is sort of like my default approach, and I need to hone the other approaches if the book's going to go places. Which I demand it to do.

* Scat-sing it if you can't hear the tune: "Na, Na Na Na, Nahhh."