Karen And MacGregor have been swapping lines to include in their poems for over a decade, and now there are two new books, from which each of them read on Saturday. They shared the stage and alternated their readings.
Here’s Gary’s intro for MacGregor:
Macgregor Card’s first full-length collection of poetry, Duties of An English Foreign Secretary, is just out from Fence Modern Poets Series. He also, along with Andrew Maxwell, was co-editor of what I think of as one of the defining poetry magazines of the last 15 years or so, The Germ.
Maybe it’s because I just watched “Geoul sokeuro,” or “Into the Mirror,” a 2003 Korean horror film structured more like a poem, or Maya Deren’s “Meshes of the Afternoon,” than a narrative, I’ve been thinking about mirroring, correspondences, and form. Or, more specifically, how form creates internal mirroring and correspondences that then resonate outward, like the surface of a mirror. The greatest formalists—Dante, for instance—created forms intended to mirror the larger structures (e.g., the universe)—and I think that something along these lines, in a knowing, 21st century way, is going on in Macgregor’s first book. Which was typeset, by the way, in two faces: Dante and Futura, the latter being one letter off from the Italian word for Future, futuro, making it an impossible to ignore poem itself: Dante, on one side of the coin, or mirror, pointing into the past; Futura, obviously pointing forward. Those who remember how meticulously The Germ was designed will not altogether dismiss this as coincidence.
Nor will they dismiss the TOC, which was designed to look like a series of tercets, if not exactly terza rima, nor will they dismiss the title page, with three—count ‘em—three rings circling around the title, which is here doubled, mirrored, or shadowed, beneath itself.
The title is originally Sydney Dobell’s, a member of the so-called Spasmodic school of poetry, whose poem, “Wind,” serves as epigraph to Macgregor’s book, and a stylistic cue.
Oh the wold, the wold,
Oh the wold, the wold!
Oh the winter stark,
Oh the level dark,
On the wold, the wold, the wold!
That word, “wold,” I believe comes from the German, Wald, which means forest—wold was a word used in England to describe an open, rolling hills sort of area. But—it’s also “World” without an “r”—that is, it’s a slightly spavined or disfigured or off representation of world—in other words, what you are presented with in a mirror, or a poem. And, speaking of mirrors, it is also one letter off from the word “word.”
I think Macgregor is a kind of formalist—that is, someone who has, in this book, at least, created a new kind of form, which uses and stacks up repetitions and “off-repetitions” in a way somewhat similar to both the rhyme scheme of terza rima and the line-by-line scheme of the sestina—but it’s a form all its own, manifesting into these brilliant, shiny, mirror-like poems, that resonate simultaneously internally and externally:
A CHAIR IS NOT A SINGING MAN
But the table is deaf
like a metal rail
And flat as a board
like the deaf
I know you hear this
“beef needs salt”
But table understands
It is an absolute pleasure for me to now welcome Macregor Card.
And here is my intro for Karen Weiser:
Just curious who in this audience has ever had a dream about giving birth, and if so, if any of those dreamers are men… Karen Weiser, in her brand spanking new “To Light Out” relates one such dream:
Inch-long baby. Climbs out and up, kangaroo style. I eat her. Once inside again, she’s a million stars.
When I read this, I had a sudden jolt of recognition, for I have had similar dreams myself, especially of giving birth to tiny animals, and I also had a jolt of memory, of myself as a preteen, living in Bolinas in a tiny studio by the ocean with my mother, reading, surreptitiously of course, her dream journal… and finding in it a dream in which I appeared as something like a joey.
That this book is dedicated to both Karen’s mother and daughter, and that it is also echoic of her mother in law, who indeed wrote a book of poems to her unborn baby, feels especially significant to the project of the book, which addresses, to put it extremely simply, nothing less than the mystery of being. I don’t know about you, but for me not a day goes by when I don’t think of how completely bizarre it is that we are quite literally made of our predecessors, and our descendants are made of us, and somewhere in this whole strange process is the origin of the universe. Honestly, the very notion makes me so vertiginous that I couldn’t even bring myself to reproduce.
Karen is clearly bolder than me, and to help herself grapple with all this, she invokes, in her extremely illuminating introduction to the book, Swedenborg’s theory of correspondences, in which, by looking at the symbolic or spiritual dimension of language, one can find what he calls “angels.” Karen suggests that Swedenborg might be using “the etymological resonance of the word angel with ‘messenger’ to imply bearing a message across something that lies between states of being.” She compares Swedenborg’s ideas to Spicer’s notion of “the outside,” which “is the thing one must tune into in order to receive the poems,” and to Spicer’s idea of poet as radio. She also looks at the Penzias and Wilson’s accidental discovery, in 1964, of cosmic microwave background radiation, which came, they found, with the help of astrophysicists, not from any human -made source, but rather from the explosive beginning of the universe itself, and made itself manifest through a radio receiver as static. Where Karen takes the static, to a place that is at once completely personal and also completely cosmic, I will leave to her to explain.
I haven’t said anything about the poems, I realize, but I think that’s OK, because Karen is here, in the flesh (which is also her mother’s, and her daughter’s, and if you think about it long enough… ours…) to read them to us. Visionary, subtle, and slightly iridescent, like umbilical cords, they posit correspondences as form, or in Karen’s words, they “costume a pulse.’ Please welcome Karen Weiser and MacGregor Card…