“Fool,” mentioned the Muse to Sir Philip Sidney, as he fumbled for phrases to precise his devotion to his beloved, “look in thy heart, and write.” In distinction, Henry David Thoreau, studying Samuel Purchas’s journey compilation Pilgrimes, jotted in his journal on March 16, 1852, that “Those old books suggested a certain fertility, an Ohio soil, as if they were making a humus for new literatures to spring in …. Decayed literature makes the richest of all soils.” Usually we anticipate poets to obey Sidney’s Muse, to start out proper off from the contents of their very own hearts; however typically, as in these new volumes by Pattie McCarthy and Daniel Tiffany, new and bracing poetries take root within the “humus” of others’ writings.
McCarthy’s Wifthing (Apogee Press) consists of 80 unmetered and unrhymed sonnets — a minimum of, every of its sections has 14 strains — that circle across the objectification of girls as “things” from the late Center Ages and seventeenth century to the twentieth century (a lot of references to T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land) and the current day. The primary 25 sections are every titled “margerykempething” and contain experiences of the late medieval mystic Margery Kempe (c. 1373–after 1439), whose account of her life is taken into account the earliest English autobiography. Illiterate herself, Kempe dictated her story, at all times referring to herself as “that creature”: the time period emphasizes her relationship with God the creator, after all, but it surely creates a unusual, objectifying impact for modern readers.
Twenty-five extra sections of Wifthing are titled “queyne wifthing,” and draw on the lives of Elizabeth Woodville (c. 1437–1492), spouse of Edward IV and mom of the murdered “princes in the tower,” and Margaret Beaufort (1441/3–1509), the mom of Henry VII, the primary Tudor monarch. These have been ladies of complicated psychological and religious lives, as McCarthy relates, however historical past remembers them primarily as moms; they’ve been diminished to their genealogical statuses: “a consort has only one body she / makes her body by making other bodies.” McCarthy seeks to recapture, in a collage of quotations, fragments, and her personal phrases, the bodily expertise of those ladies; on the similar time, she dwells upon the space between the modern poet and the medieval noblewomen:
I flip my greatest ear to you & coos of them murmur down the flue do you suppose a gull might eclipse the moon he needs to dive down the shadow of my melancholy we aren't these our bodies they form the areas between she strikes each stretching into the long run & additionally sounding in my chest as the pigeon
The ultimate 30 sections of the poem, “goodwifthing,” middle totally on the Salem witch trials of 1692, when 14 ladies have been hanged in a infamous episode of mass hysteria and thinly veiled misogyny. McCarthy’s unlikely point of interest right here just isn’t a lot the “witches” — although their voices and experiences are heard — however the accuser Mercy Lewis:
mercy enters the story like a wolf with a historical past of the phrase to wyf her physique as historic panorama most efficiency of improper habits
McCarthy acknowledges a continuity between the experiences of all of those ladies and her personal, not least within the side of motherhood: Margery Kempe had 14 youngsters earlier than taking a vow of chastity; Margaret Beaufort and Elizabeth Woodville are remembered for their youngsters; the poet herself refers to her “daughterthing” and “boychik.” The poems toggle between their topics’ and the poet’s consciousness; we’re jerked from the late medieval period into the instant current, after which again to the realm of literature or historical past: “I called out sick to write this poem / I turned on paw patrol to write this poem / I look to the whale-path to write this poem.” “[Y]ou are the shape of my midlife crisis / margery kempe.”
McCarthy addresses her personal experiences of sexuality, of motherhood, of womanhood in what stays an excessive amount of a man’s world, and he or she does so by writing via the previous: “I’m middle-aged I’m sentimental I’m / never more confessional than when I / write about Salem & share facts with you.” This isn’t a lot a matter of treating “history like a bad mirror” — a distorted reflection of the current observer — as of discovering up to now a useful archive, a “midden” of experiences that deepen and enrich these of the current second:
mercy we midden we accumulate we relearn we glitter we disappear we soiled factor we completely different our bodies we cobwebs we excessive tide we archive we be aware we dazzle we erasure we hungry we anemic we witches
“the archive might be tidal a midden,” McCarthy concludes; however it’s an inheritance, a continuity of expertise handed down from one lady to a different: “my other mother put it in my mouth.”
If McCarthy’s Wifthing is a dive into the documentary archive with clear precedents within the works of Susan Howe, Muriel Rukeyser, and lots of the “high” modernists of the early twentieth century, Daniel Tiffany’s lengthy poem Cry Baby Mystic (Parlor Press) is a much more disorienting tackle The E book of Margery Kempe. The “cry baby mystic” of Tiffany’s title is Kempe herself, infamous for the involuntary bouts of sobbing and moaning, typically hours in length, which seized her in public or non-public, throughout mass, through the homily — roughly every time she contemplated the fervour of Jesus Christ or the mercy of God. These crying jags have been stunning and incomprehensible to these round her, even as they embodied her private relationship with the divine. Kempe was accused of heresy on a number of events and got here near being burned alive by the non secular authorities of her day.
The “mystic” whose actions, phrases, and silences flash via Cry Child Mystic — typically named as the “creature,” extra usually merely “she” — seems on the poem’s first web page:
Ear pitched to the ocean ground, a shade of livid inexperienced, mentioned creature holds out towards our methods.
By evoking Noam Chomsky’s infamous “Colorless green ideas sleep furiously” (Syntactic Buildings, 1957), a sentence grammatically appropriate however semantically nonsensical, the poem underlines the incomprehensibility of “said creature”’s visions, even when communicated in language, to her auditors — and divulges the uneasiness on the coronary heart of the poem: that language itself is insufficient, that “our tricks” of communication and communion are in the end futile within the face of unassailable, impenetrable inside lives.
Cry Child Mystic is a lengthy poem that appears to have discarded the class of “poetry” itself, and with it the entire notion of the aesthetic:
Fairly grim—we’re executed with artwork—you by no means know how a lot inside you is breaking aside, what it have to be like, why some phrases get their manner, some don’t…
On the similar time, nevertheless, the poem flaunts its personal artifice, as within the mawkish inner rhyme of “art” and “apart,” and most notably in its somewhat strident formalism. The place the “sonnet” type of McCarthy’s Wifthing is unfastened sufficient to incorporate sections that look just about like prose, Cry Child Mystic consists of a string of cinquains, a five-line syllabic kind invented by Adelaide Crapsey (1878–1914). Crapsey noticed herself as imitating such Japanese types as the haiku or the tanka; it’s one thing of a tour-de-force on Tiffany’s half to hijack the cinquain, often related to temporary, self-contained lyrical or emotive utterance, as the formal armature for an prolonged work.
The reader clings for expensive life to the cinquain’s formal construction as Cry Child Mystic rushes by, an at-times nightmarish kaleidoscope of heterogeneous however at all times vigorous language. We get glimpses of Margery Kempe’s life, bits of birdsong and ornithology, flashes of noir narrative, indirect visions of intercourse golf equipment and orgies, fragments of overheard dialog, in each customary English and the dialects of the American South. The best of lyric communication, at all times simply out of attain, is one specter haunting the poem:
We shoo away the songs, they crawl again into us, staring off into house the place no one strikes.
No lyrical or meditative second lasts lengthy right here, nevertheless, however is interrupted — usually mid-stanza — by a shift in diction, scene, or voice. The poem is directly completely opaque and relentlessly, compulsively readable: we have no idea the place we’re or the place we’re going, however the quicksilver shifts of the language and the cinquain’s formal crucial maintain us studying.
Tiffany has spoken of how his mom’s Alzheimer’s influenced his writing, however Cry Child Mystic is clearly greater than a meditation on a single particular person’s descent into aphasia. Its cacophony of voices and musics presents an nearly elegiac imaginative and prescient of inviolable and tortured selfhood caught in a storm of fragmentary, solely intermittently communicative language — “more failed / words doing whatever / they want with me.” Generally the archive of the previous appears a report of failed communions: 600 years later, Margery Kempe’s disquieting sobs proceed to confound and provoke.
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