Saturday, April 14, 2012

Poem: Ann Lauterbach

Ann Lauterbach
One of the poets I discovered while idly browsing one day in a bookstore in New York City was Ann Lauterbach (1942-).  The book was And for Example (Penguin, 1994). I found the poetry entrancingly difficult, which for me is a good sign. Each page drew me in like a magnet, and after I had read half the book in the store, I had to purchase it. I have been reading her work and going to see her read ever since. Among my favorite of her readings are ones she gave at the old Dia Center for the Arts space in Chelsea, which became one of my staples in the late 1990s, and which is where I first saw her perform her signing-thrumming, which I could not stop talking about; and at the Bowery Poetry Club, where I caught her reading "Litany," the very long and dream inducing poem by and with John Ashbery. "I fainted, honey."

A few falls ago, at the Advancing Feminist Poetics and Politics conference at the CUNY Graduate Center, I saw her read with Mei-Mei Berssenbruegge (another poet whose work I adore), and in her pre-reading comments, she explained, in crystalline language, what her aims had been, from book to book. It was the most revelatory thing, and I even wrote about it on this blog. A key, a golden one, she gave to her readers that day, and it has since made her work somewhat less hermetic, my reading of her work somewhat easier, but Lauterbach's poetry is nevertheless no less enchanting.  And it can be relatively straightforward and moving as well. She is the David and Ruth Schwab II Professor at Bard College, where she directs their MFA program.

Here is a two-part poem by Lauterbach, who is the author of 8 full collections and a book of critical essays. "New Brooms" is not strictly self-reflexive about poetry so much as it interrogates language itself, as its opening section makes clear. Readers of Seismosis will note how some of Lauterbach has seeped into my work; and she was a graduate professor of my collaborator, Chris Stackhouse. Influence!


Of representation (frame)
from one to another (use)
between the articulation (space)
of language (tree)
of clarity by means of (intent)
of humans (speech)
on the contrary (response)
with itself, in its own density (earth)
for it is not (image)
from the first to the second (wave)
seizes upon (law)
within the other (us)
without those of (tradition)
point by point (nature)
of or to (the same)
and so on into a possible good
the waxed carnation's cribbed flounce
shade distinctly wound among new brooms
panache of the ever-tan September
And so what is said is at an angle
over the floor from which the soliloquy drafts
        upwards, as if restitution
             could be a chant surrounding disaster.
Bruise on the arm lingers in absentia.
Buzz saw in the alley.
Speech, oracle of intention, dissolves
into the sea's remission
as up through an imperfect net comes another exaltation.


Some here twitch along a heading, out
out, and came thou back along the periphery,
shroud tracked, foregathered,
tune integrating chorale
tautly drawn into rainspit, down
through the breaking mirror's reminiscent shield, bethou
said the maiden, bethou said the monk.
Not yet, said the bird, elongating distance,
high among pines and pale rock.
But had we spoken of the quarry?
Or were we in a room, video-taped, among dry towels
and the humid inquisition of the crowd?
We were in the crowd, "you and I" "he and she" and so
transpired over its edge into
bodily harm: an eye for a hand, some mantra of war.
The stipulating crew began to assert its origins
and what pale and what golden
shimmied into paradox, whittling the streets with monograms,
the walls with cool but generative dust.
The pictures came back from their instants.
A genetic stroke of luck is not to have this receptor.
Yet another instruction, one we still cannot read.

to Thomas Dumm

Copyright © Ann Lauterbach, "New Brooms," from If In Time: Selected Poems, 1975-2000, New York: Penguin, 2000.

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