Thursday, September 16, 2010

Emily Greenley’s Knowledge

Some Clouds

Rain, furious half the night, with a brief lightning extravaganza around 3 a.m. spooking the dog into a three-corner’d whine and circuit, room to room to room, taper’d off by dawn—as is rain’s wont—to a mere drizzle nigh-conceal’d by the canopy’s mild leaf-caught unleashings. So I biked, slicker-zipped against a reprise. Skunk’d-up air along the flank of Allmendinger Park, the bicylcle’s wheels cutting a fine cursive in the wet. Nothing pre-prepared: thinking—beyond the sensual mess—zilch. Green screen. (Or blue nowadays.) What “sensual mess”—I mean, I suppose, a kind of pre-lingual gaping, the lingual feat—that act of scorifying the sheer smear (though it could be rock, a whole mountain) of the world reducing it to the slag of vocables—put into abeyance (or, throttle stuck, overdrive) by the way that world’s constantly inputting, so’s language must needs cannibalize itself just to keep “up”—what sensual mess’d provoke a thing like this:
Anatomy of Sadness

Now it’s my image of you
In my head and sometimes in life:

Once I saw you walking, once running,
In a typically red garment,

With a ruler on your brow,
And a look of bold hesitation.

You must have felt like a boy or a dog,
Or dead, transparent, ten feet high,

Wearing that map of difference
Across your physiognomy.
Awkwardnesses (“In my head and sometimes in life”), the adamantly mysterious (“a boy or a dog, / Or dead”), odd register shifts (“physiognomy”), and a piece utterly strange and convincing. (Why—in my “pre-lingual gaping”—do I read “With a ruler on your brow” and think of Jack Spicer using lines out of the (originally) Brazilian folk song “Meu limão, meu limoeiro” in one of the “Six Poems for Poetry Chicago”: “Limon tree very pretty / And the limon flower is sweet / But the fruit of the poor lemon / Is impossible to eat”? Something of Spicer’s “Vain words / . . . / Of good / And impossible / Dimensions” to the brash inconsequentiality of the act, its “bold hesitation”? The poem is by Emily Greenley (1968-1990), who kill’d herself at twenty-three. Out of Knowledge (Vital Habit, n.d.), a side-stapled book of seventy or so pages, cover a painting by Grace Hartigan call’d “Summer Street.” (A mite sub rosa, the book’s origin according to its own data: Vital Habit’s address is print’d as “9 rue Gît-le-Cœur / Paris”—an address some’ll identify as that of the nameless Latin Quarter joint call’d, c. 1957 or so, “the Beat Hotel.”) Larry Fagin sent me a copy, and call’d Greenley’s work to my attention. Here’s the initial piece:

Loved by woman nor man
I can’t such as I am

In a forest of reference
love is a nothing world

Maybe I drive myself out,
resting in a blank bed

Or I tell my whole history
to get to the end of me.
“World” not “word.” In “Size Problem” Greenley says “the size of the universe / became something like my head’s”—that ancient irrefragable sensation of sprawl and oneness, measure extend’d illimitably to fit the circumstance. (The entirely marvelous—and terrifying—intent to “tell my whole history / to get to the end of me” is something of a temporal rendering of the same.) Another:

The unbelievably pretty ladies
had a good bit of luck

That were born with a body
that would accommodate fucks:

Some have a catalogue of scents
or a cache of gems

Visible to cultured men,
and the hair of a kitten,
and the smooth lips of a blue dolphin.
That searing ability to swerve somewhere unexpect’d: the suddenness accommodated (here) by lackadaisical and “crude” (in two senses) rhyme, and the matter-of-fact conversational tone. Something unstudy’d (like Clare). Not all the collect’d pieces wholly wow (though most contain a fulgent moment or two—see, say, in “Sitting by a Beauty,” how “my mouth reddened graciously as I told it the sanguine tale / of a box in a well shaped country / filling itself from a blank sea . . .”; or, in “Gray Girl,” how “I am nine, and my name is B / I once hit my head on a stump / Everyone likes to see a girl in pain / Provided there’s no mark”; or, in “Desire,” the lines “Who is it who is in me / shutting up indelicately? // before it I had not tried it / and after I chased it down, // my mouth round its neck I drained it / like a fox a chicken”): Greenley’s is the book of a talent bit off, thwart’d. One (of several) prose poems:
Confessions of a Student Writer

        On the subject of egotism: I have always acted in the way that will bring me most notice, and I think that is most healthy for anyone, even a non-writer. Of course writers thrive on being written about. It is obvious to me that the better-looking one is, the better writer one will make. Sometimes this has worked even in the case of a good-looking non-writer who suddenly publishes his autobiography. A writer’s autobiography—a good-looking writer’s autobiography—really sells, especially after he dies. Because of this it may be advantageous to appear to have died, after which “event” one can continue writing and publishing “posthumously” until actual death intervenes.
        On manners: they are unnecessary for some people! It is clear to me that a few genuinely rude writers will not only be excused by those who know them, but will make any group undertaking much more amusing for everyone.
        When I am introduced to someone, I usually look away quickly after saying hello. (This comes from fear, but occasionally has the effect of making me seem “disdainful”!) The tools, then, of a successful writer: disdain and tactlessness. These qualities are sometimes really charming.
        And in particular I think it is best to reveal as many secrets as possible. It doesn’t matter if the person you are telling is sympathetic, or even discreet. When you reveal secrets, you are disseminating information which may turn into gossip, which may then proliferate in several varieties until no one knows exactly what you are about!
        Secrets should also be coaxed from anyone you spend time with. Especially interesting are stories about pathetic sexual experiences. It doesn’t actually matter if you keep these secrets, because the people who tell them are probably hoping you will tell others.
        Someone else’s secret may become a great book in your hands!
“Disseminating,” leakage, bravado, pathos, gossip, tactlessness, catharsis (“secret”-sharing): largely earmarks of the gurlesque avant la lettre. Though, here, of course, imbue’d with irony—unwittingly parodying Adorno’s category of the grotesque as “a parody of catharsis.”—and elsewhere (see, say, in “Anniversary”—“We came through / a rack of dead creatures // That sun shot through / your eye, it struck my head”) permeated with an un-complacent (unstudy’d) strangeness that’s foreign to the efforts of most current gurlesqueries. Authenticity unbow’d by marketry. One final poem:
The Mamselle

At recess time a field of children
who lost track of their virginities
fell to picking teams for a game of opposites.

It was an allocation of talent.


specifically a portion of your face
engages my eye, giving it unaccountable looks


Let’s go into the vast holiness of that plain
where suffering is the occupation,
and to be distressed in the spirit.


A lady I saw on your mind
came by a few weeks since
bearing all that innocent money

You had said it was to be a ransom for that time
between an introduction and a mamselle striding out over the lake

Grace Hartigan, “Summer Street,” 1956