From Wendy Tronrud to Norma Cole, 19 January 1998

What I intend to write on is the "translations of space" as concerns your poetry. (I am dealing with space in the sense that space is the visual plane upon which order and meaning are constructed. I intend to look at your poetry in terms of how it breaks down the conventional notions of genre through its utilization/construction of another reading/seeing space)....

1)   Have you, as a poet, been influenced by film, experimental or otherwise? If so, are there any specific films and/or directors that have influenced your poetry in particular?

2)   Do you feel that your poetry works within a specific genre of poetry? What do you think about the notion of there being distinctive genres of poetry or literature?

3)   Do you see gender as playing a significant role in your poetry?

4)   Has your knowledge of the French language had any influence upon your poetry?

--Wendy Tronrud

From Norma Cole to Wendy Tronrud, 25 January 1998

Dear Wendy,

      I want to assure you that I am available and glad to discuss my work with you. I am going to preface my responses to your four questions with a brief account of a negotiation I am having regarding space, visual, physical space, as central to my poetics. As I was going through the proofs of a section of my work, Desire & its Double, which will appear quite soon as a chapbook, I noticed that the editor had "regularized" things which in manuscript had not been consistent, and had made decisions to change things which had been consistent. For instance, some of the titles of individual texts had normative capitalization of the "main words," whereas some capitalized only the first word. All the titles were aligned at the left-hand margin, giving them a very particular relationship to the text on the page. The editor capitalized all the "main words," in a conventional way, and centered all the titles. At first, I was willing to try to accept his changes as "styling" changes, but I became increasingly aware that these decisions appearing in the ms had been fully motivated in each case by the terms of each text. The editor's decisions were the arbitrary ones.

      It has become clear to me, over time, and in certain ways, how this group of texts is transitional: it is moving from the books MOIRA and Contrafact through some new territory, characterized by certain struggles, into my current work-in-progress, Spinoza in Her Youth. While preparing the ms of Desire & its Double for press, I had rethought the irregular and individual decisions, found them to be absolutely necessary in every case. To "regularize" in order to conform to conventions of style would be arbitrary, anodyne and counter to the impulses of discovery working in the writing. It is, after all, poetry and as such is subject to its own demands, not to the Chicago Manual of Style.

      In the shaping of these poems, I had, among other things, been working towards other possible relationships between the title and the body of the text. The metaphor central to these conventional terms is a dead giveaway: I was resisting the separation of TITLE and BODY, and the hierarchy this relationship implies. My resistance is not surprising, given my on-going engagement with the concerns of phenomenology, and the investigations of relationships between, or inseparability of, thought/intellection and experience/physicality/emotion and pursuit of intellect-as-passion, or passionate thought. The titles of these poems are sometimes onomastic in their function, sometimes like introductory or pre-stanzaic, or, in some cases, want to be read into the first lines of the text, as text. Such relationships are crucial to the work and to one's reading of it. How this exploration, with its provocations, moves toward resolution, or "new form," reveals itself in the more recent work, where there are no titles in the sense of separators, where the text moves along with small breaks as a serial piece, and where its visual texture on the page might be experienced as...BLACK AND WHITE FILM MOVING THROUGH A PROJECTOR, a composition of light & dark that is constantly shape-shifting.

      Now I await, with considerable interest, the response of the editor, to see whether his support of "innovative" poetry can embrace such exploratory (in- process) "disturbances" that are this writing. We are not talking about disturbance for its own sake here, but of a writing that goes outside the range of what is normative. What is outside that range is experienced as disturbance, or disruption, and AS THAT, permits new and unexpected information to enter the field of the work.

      Now to address your questions :

1)   I do have a strong relationship with film. This has been true since my student years, when I was able to see a lot of experimental film, early b/w film, foreign (especially French nouvelle vague b/w) film. Some of the directors whose work especially interests me and with whose investigations I feel strong affinity are Godard, Duras, Losey, Akerman, Ruiz, Marker, and Wenders.

      I have also a whole history as a painter, and as someone who studies painting, who has always been intensely involved with this art. Although I still do a certain amount of visual work (drawing, collage, photography) I no longer paint, and there is a whole set of relationships with "the visual," with the terms of space and light and depth, for instance, that my writing tracks as I move away from being a practicing painter with a studio, with brushes and tubes of paint, its smell. It is as if I am now permitted to address questions of poetics, of composition, of rhythm, and so on, that previously I'd have engaged with in a different two-dimensional arena, that of painting.

2)  Having an awareness of genre does not bind one to its codifications in one's own practice. However, the longer one writes, the more deeply one may feel/understand/be puzzled by/be intrigued by/want to investigate the different impulses behind (or, as Robert Duncan would say, "back of") these formal differentiations. I have always worked, as anyone does, in relation to "genres I have known." For instance, I am never not interested in speculations and evidence regarding the "origins of lyric" and its history. This includes, for instance, on-going reading of kharjas from the south of pre-Inquisition Spain, the poetry/songs of the troubadors, Emily Dickinson and other reinventions. My interest in genre would not be for its own sake, but rather out of real need to experience what real work has been done.

3)  The discourse concerning gender and the realpolitik of gender have been primary and revolutionary during my lifetime. Gender issues are central to much of the literary, political and theoretical discourses I have participated in and lived through. They mark my living and working conditions, relationships, and enter my writing as experience does, i.e. variously.

4)   My knowledge of the French language has permitted me to read widely and deeply in that literature, as well as to consider the compositional tools and materials (syntax, grammar, lexicon etc.) that differ from language to language, therefore to think about what the differences might mean, how language works, and so on. I have also been able to participate in discussions of poetry and poetics that take place among poets and poet/translators with whom I am fortunate enough to have on-going contact in France as well as in North America. I am more aware all the time that the questions of translation are questions of poetics. And so they enter the writing.

      Perhaps these responses will bear out what you already suspect from your reading? I hope this is helpful, even the digression about the chapbook, and if my letter elicits further questions, feel free to contact me again. Best of luck with your work.
Norma Cole

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