blackbirdonline journalSpring 2011  Vol. 10  No. 1
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Sequence Introduction

I am always working in series, a practice which provides considerable pleasure and provocation, especially for an obsessive personality. All of my books contain constellations of poetic series and sequences on subjects as various as Schumann’s Kinderszenen, Rapunzel, the Brontës, months of the year, and insomnia. Each Lent, engagement in a series (penances, mortifications, feast days, collects) becomes a kind of devotion for me. Sometimes these series remain intact; at other times, I pull out some of the poems and/or give them new titles. William Blake, a printer as well as poet—printing, of course, being an intensely serial praxis—wrote in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell that “Eternity is in love with the productions of time,” and I think that the opportunity that series and sequences afford the lyric poet to pitch interiority and transitory inkling against and into the tidal, temporal motions of narrative is one of the chief appeals of any poetic sequence. In Beyond the Pleasure Principle, Freud suggests that human beings are compelled to repeat, to work through in an incrementally varied way what Dickinson would call our “flood” subjects—the material that chooses us.  A mother of three who works full time, I also found and find that working in a serial way creates a mental space or room for me—if I’ve got a resonant, overarching subject with something at stake, then the door is always open, the place for making always there, even when I don’t have world enough and time to sit down and actually write. And all of the exigencies of my quotidian life (an encounter at 7-Eleven, something one of my children says, dialogue overheard at the gas station) become as a result charged with possibility, every detail a potential element of the series at hand.

The poems in this recent “saint” series (there are about forty of them so far, and a number of them will appear in my forthcoming book, Vanitas, Rough) became a way for me to write about various kinds of separation and distance (from God, a loved one, one’s own body or romantic illusions or expectations, one’s work). Collectively, they create a hagiography that allows the poems themselves to become—variously—petitions, meditations, plaints, and offerings to their subjects/patrons. One thing that is exciting about working in a series is the way in which doing so allows the poet to sound many, often paradoxical, notes in a complex situation. As Whitman says in his serial Leaves of Grass, which he configured and reconfigured for decades, “Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes).” A Penelope-like figure, awaiting the return of absent loved ones in uncertainty and with a full and vexed range of emotions, stalks many of the poems. We see her in “St Home,” for example, rather directly. And of course she is “the poet,” too, in this poem—“I am loom. // What to weave?” The speaker in “St. Bed of Snow” could be either the traveler or the one who waits, and, if the poem works, I hope it reveals that “forgiveness” (prayer, petition, the poem) as well as what is beyond complete wording (love, faith, trust) always present a choice, an alternative to despair, surrender, the “bed of snow.”  end

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