Carol Guess on Literary Minimalism

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Untitled by Nasreen Mohamedi

I see much of my work as blocks of text that are made up of sentences, which are made up of words, and each of those words and sentences and blocks of text are modular—I can move them around as I see fit. I can subtract and subtract and subtract. I hate to add. I feel strongly that what I am trying to say is already on the page waiting to be uncovered. I print out pieces, cut out paragraphs, tape them together in a new order. I hate that such clunkiness is part of my revision process, but reading Carol Guess’ essay today on Lit Hub made it feel a little more okay:

“…looking at the papers strewn on the floor, I saw lines lift as if illuminated. I understood clearly that the poems were there, hidden, as sculpture hides in a block of stone. It wasn’t four books, but one; the obstacle was excess. I didn’t need to write more, but less.”  -Carol Guess

Klint and Quaytman


After two different people strongly recommended I go see it, I spent an afternoon at the Guggenheim with Swedish artist Hilma af Klint’s abstract, spiritual collection, one she began creating in 1906.

I took exactly one photo before my phone died.

Klint is an artist who did not show her work publicly in her lifetime. Her wish was to have it remain out of the public eye until at least twenty years after her death. It didn’t receive real attention until 1986 – over forty years after she passed away in 1944.

“She imagined installing these works in a spiral temple, though this plan never came to fruition”.

It was my aim to view Klint’s work, which I knew would resonate, so I was pleasantly surprised to feel something from R. H. Quaytman’s work (Chapter 34). Since I’m researching examples of imagery in storytelling for my craft paper, I spent time in the reading room jotting down some notes about the way she likes to talk about her entire body of work. From the introduction of the Morning: Chapter 30 exhibition catalogue:

“RHQ has used the word ‘book’ to describe her ongoing production, and the word ‘chapter’ to denote each group of her paintings. She sometimes says that each painting is like a word in a sentence, and that we should replace the word ‘noun’ by the word ‘painting’, and that each painting is like a page. In a battle between words and image, language wins all the time over image”.

Both artists will be shown until 4/23/19. J. really wants to see it too, so I’ll definitely be back at least once more before the exhibitions come to a close.


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Kaigara danmen zuan (Album of Cross-sections of Shells)
Japanese, Taisho era, 1913

On Wednesday, I visited the NY Society Library, bought a day pass, and began assembling my thesis. My thesis is something I have been calling the shell of my book, but when I say the word shell I don’t mean an eggshell, where everything is neat, suspended, and contained within a thin, fragile layer, I mean the other kind of shell. A conch or maybe a broken piece of coral, where the elements can flow in one way and flow out another.

As I sit at a table on the fifth floor of this library, assembling the parts and pieces of this shell—my shell-that’s due to my advisor in less than a month, I realize how fully addicted I am to the float-feeling: the feeling that some writers call being in “the zone”, where after I finish tweaking a word, or restructuring a sentence, or writing a memory, I have forgotten where I am for a moment, where everything around me has fallen away and it’s just me and the edges and curves in front of me. And then, as soon as I realize I feel disoriented, my surroundings rush back. I am again inside the room among other writers on the fifth floor with the sun casting a glow on the wood table and the white noise of the shuffling of papers and the tap-tap-tapping of keys.

Collage and Henri Gaudier-Brzeska

“I shall derive my emotions solely from the arrangement of surfaces, I shall present my emotions by the arrangement of my surfaces, the planes and lines by which they are defined.”

Excerpt from sculptor Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, written in the French trenches during WWI. The rest is here.

“Water’s Edge” by Louise Forbush

The Volta

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“The poem is a ritual space for the practice of feeling.”  -Gregory Pardlo

I’m less than a year away from finishing my MFA and recently chose my thesis advisor. David Payne is a poet, fiction writer, and memoirist. His most recent book, Barefoot to Avalon, is a memoir about his brother. He discusses it here.

After David read the sample I sent him, he asked me to think about “where the status quo is broken”. And I have. For most of the summer and now into the fall. And I’m still not exactly sure. Then I was assigned the poet Gregory Pardlo’s memoir, Air Traffic for one of my other classes.

For Pardlo, the tipping point, or fulcrum, is the point in the poem where something in it shifts. It could be a plot twist. It could be a change in tone. It may be a point midway or more toward the end, and Pardlo calls it the volta, or “moment of transformation”.

He says there may be many patterns in a poem, but THE VOLTA IS SPECIAL. The volta marks a moment when the poem breaks its deepest and most characteristic habit. He says if there is no volta, no tipping point, the poem is “a laundry list of selections and anecdotes…a litany of relapses…the barren passage of time unthwarted.”

Maybe one day I will find my volta.

Kim of Queens

I’ll admit it: I do have a secret obsession with the child pageant reality show Kim of Queens.
Canceled after only two seasons, Kim of Queens follows the former Miss Georgia winner turned pageant coach Kim Gravel (pronounced, “Gra-Vell”) as she readies her kiddie clients, ages 9-16, for a shot at big-time pageant stages, such as Miss Georgia and Miss America. Each week her “pageant pros”, as she calls them, are accompanied by their mothers, whose personalities range from overbearingly encouraging to disturbingly narcissistic. After watching every episode if this series three times in a row (the final episode aired back in 2014), I have come to the conclusion that it is the mother’s heavy-handed coaching/overbearing nature that I’m the most fascinated with. Or maybe it’s watching the kids conquer a fear and coming out of it feeling braver and more confident. Or maybe I just like watching them shop for fancy dresses.

Every morning before work I watch one hour-long, DVR-ed episode while draining two cups of microwaved coffee. This is how I start my day.  I told a friend of mine that I watch Kim of Queens as a way to bore myself into productivity, but I don’t believe that’s the reason. I don’t know why I watch this show.

What shows are you secretly obsessed with? Has anyone watched Kim of Queens? What are your thoughts on the mothers and why it was canceled? (I have my own ideas, which I’ll save for another post.)

Research Trip: Nutley, New Jersey

I was in Nutley, New Jersey to explore a corner of someone’s life. A dimmed corner of a life and a time I’d only heard stories about. I was in Nutley to seek evidence that the stories were true. I was expecting to find nothing of value. I was expecting to be turned away. I figured at the very least I’d have a good cup of coffee and some exercise.

Nutley at first, with its beautiful parks, nice little library, and local sub shop, felt like any other quaint little town I’d visited. But then it felt like more. The more I explored, the more comfortable and relaxed I got. Nutley was different. Friendlier. And it wasn’t just the strangers who walked past me and said hello. When I asked the owner of the sub shop for bus directions back to the Port Authority, he went out of his way to write them out for me. When I realized I forgot my ID at the library after spending the better part of an afternoon searching through old yearbooks, the reference librarian recognized me as soon as I walked in and said, “I was looking for you!” as if we were old friends and not just two strangers who’d just met earlier that day and barely exchanged ten words apiece.

Within that town’s library I found a little physical proof, but the real value for me was walking the same trails and sidewalks I knew she must’ve walked fifty years ago. I found her in the calm water, in the weeping willow tree, I saw her riding her bike up and down the trails and eating an Italian sub with oil and vinegar, salt and pepper. In Nutley I finally found her.