Friday, December 20, 2013

Geography of Siren Songs

The always wonderful Denise Duhamel has an essay on women poets up at The Huffington Post.  What I love is that she assumes we've all heard of Adrienne Rich and other well-known poets.  But look at this paragraph, how artfully she works in the names of poets whom so many people have yet to discover, and yet she gives us all the benefit of the doubt by assuming we may have discovered them--and she reminds us of why we should rush out to get their works, if we haven't already:

"You may have read Sharon Olds, Alicia Ostriker, Ruth Stone, Kim Addonizio, or Dorianne Laux, for their taboo-shattering wisdom. You may have read Tracy K. Smith or Amy Gerstler for their otherworldly take on pop culture and social issues. You may have read Rita Dove or Natasha Tretheway, who both explore the United States' complicated past when it comes to African Americans. You may have read the terse and brilliant lyrics of Sappho, Emily Dickinson, or Jean Valentine. You may have read Barbara Hamby, Molly Peacock, or Marilyn Hacker who infuse female spirit in fixed literary forms. You may have read Nikki Giovanni, Sandra Cisneros, Adrienne Rich, or Nellie Wong whose performable politics are transformative. You may have read Anne Sexton, Sylvia Plath, Lucille Clifton, Daisy Fried, Sharon Dolin, or Beth Ann Fennelly who write about sexuality and motherhood with harrowing clarity. These voices were probably covered in Introduction to Women Poets. But don't worry if you haven't taken that class--there is room in this Advanced Women Poets seminar, no prerequisite required."

And then, she gets to the heart of her essay, recommending even newer poets, likely less well-known, that we should read.  I was happy to have heard of most of them, even if I haven't read them all yet.

I spent some time at the website of one of the poets mentioned, Stephanie Strickland.  I spent some time with the work Sea and Spar Between.  Wow.  She's doing amazing things with her electronic tools, where she mixes Emily Dickinson and Herman Melville.  Or is it the computer doing it?  Does she get credit as the poet for telling the computer what to do, or more accurately, for setting up the random phrase generator and telling the computer to pair random phrases?  In this instance, is it more accurate to call her a poet or a computer coder?

These are issues for some graduate student to explore in a dissertation.  I will not solve them this morning.  Much of it is  such an unfamiliar geography to me, this world of multimedia/new media/digital media--and yet, I feel its pull.

The always wonderful Dave Bonta alerted me in this post to a wonderful article about the limits of the online world.   In this article, Chris Clarke says, "I spend so much time staring into a computer screen. It’s an odd problem to have. I earn my living writing about the natural world, trying to convey the things about it that make it different from the conceptual one we increasingly inhabit online. Few things online hold the surprising complexity of an oak leaf, a beetle’s wing. Online, we create the world in our own image, and we filter out the nuance in our image when we do it."

His essay goes on to talk about the pull of the desert, which took me back to a year ago, when I'd have been about to head out to the desert southwest, the California side.  I have felt the desert's siren song even before I went, and it haunted me for months after I got back.

Oceans, deserts, mountains--it's the geography of siren songs, of seduction.  For the first few weeks of 2013, I resisted that voice that said, "Pack it all up here.  Move to the desert."  It's not a good time in the history of the planet's water supply to be moving to the desert.

Of course, it's not a great time to be living by the ocean side either.  My spouse watched part of a documentary last night that mentioned that if all the ice sheets melt, the seas will rise 200 feet.  Yikes.

Good thing we're living in geologic time, where that melt will take place slowly, over hundreds of years--if I'm lucky.  In the meantime, I'll enjoy exploring the various geographies that sing to me.

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