Susan M. Schultz

Working Note

The prose poem is a ripe field for borrowed language, which I usually italicize. There’s a wonderful line in Lois-Ann Yamanaka’s poem, “Tita: User,” where the speaker claims that she doesn’t “steal,” she “borrows.” “Borrowed” language has become especially important to me since my husband and I adopted our son, Sangha, who now approaches three years of age, in July, 2000. The language used to talk about children at once fascinates and disturbs me: words like “real” and “natural” or even “breast” exclude parents like me from many conversations. The constant hearkening back to true origins reminds me of an internet ad sent my way, whose banner reads, “Nothing expresses your true self like a personal poem.” Adoption, quotation: two natural occurrences that are not original with the parent or poet. And so I quote - often I quote Sangha’s early attempts at the English language, recognizing that the acquisition of language is itself a not entirely natural activity, unless it’s located in endless repetition - hence Gertrude Stein’s naturalism! - and comment on what I hear. Much of the language of “Exhibition Guide” comes from a trip I made last summer to Sydney, where the alterity of Australian English impressed and confused me, and where I had a long conversation with joanne burns about death and dying (“mirrored in” the sky-writing that formed “artificially” and was erased “naturally” one afternoon beside the Contemporary Art Museum). The exhibition guide in question presented the work of Robert McPherson, an Australian artist who paints grocery store signs such as those I quote in the poem. I found the signs oddly moving, especially when I saw their “originals” in stores around Sydney. “Passage” comes of a similar conversation (this time virtual) with Claudia Keelan about the death of her father. And “Repetition Compulsion” speaks to the function of repetition as “artificial” memory, for a small child, a historian who suffers dementia, and the poet, attempting to re-member her plot after a long depression. Above all, these recent poems deliberately confuse the boundaries between categories: “I write in prose because I am a lyric poet.”




Exhibition Guide

                        for joanne burns

More words mean more categories: agaga distinguishes helicopter from aten (airplane). Americans sound a) too happy, or b) fake. He handed me a newspaper that read America: the World’s Biggest Rogue State, but when I reached for it, he said it cost $2 Australian. Splitting stem cells with the measure of Solomon, the president inaugurated a brain drain. The politics come with the experiments, she said, when I wondered if the avant-garde isn’t wasted on the young. It’s a soft and poignant time, Joanne writes, while her partner’s mother dies. What words are there when death is for the better? The project is there, but she hasn’t embarked on it; after her father died, her dreams kept them both inside the house. Perhaps he needs to be forgiven now, she says of a dead man who can’t find the light. The boy draws ducko (geckos) and a cheese aten, mama and dada, all pencilled swirls resembling each other. Formlessness of ooze or Teletubbies dancing in their sci-fi English garden, awaiting the moment they’ll say again and play it over, and over, restitution of the common on an approximate heath of flowers and rabbits and beneath space blankets when the nunu comes to purify them all. After a sentence of such length, one requires a breather of sorts, something spoken rather than tethered, his four names written underneath the loops to point toward a stable of words he’ll learn to pencil in. One aten, he’s careful to say, holding up his hand with a finger and thumb extended. Of number, the ways of certainty to those of us who stumble upon it, then lose it like the word FROGGY scrawled in the sky over the Circular Quay. An internet provider, the waitress tells me, though the children in blue suits and caps don’t know that. Inside the museum, signs read Fresh & Fruity, Ripe & Ready and — best of all — Buggerlugs.

Repetition compulsion

An aesthetic of joy. No, not the aesthetic, but it itself, the expression of it, what comes before expression, which is fact, if untranslatable in speech. Where dada go? means he speaks in full sentences, questions. Having pencilled a “gecko” on a legal pad, he raises his arms as if to denote touchdown or field goal. Throws right, bats left. Swings his large plastic spoon at an invisible b-ball, then runs around the living room, catches his own fly. I used to be able to write for 50 hours at a time, the historian says, who now tries hard to remember plots to daytime soaps. If he prayed, he’d ask for an end. But the boy says gain, gain and the television complies, at least this once. Is the joy in repetition or in what is repeated? I was on a bus and feared I’d forgotten how to tie my shoes, so I watched as a student kneeled and tied his. The memory function was all repetition, obsession, re-runs, but it left out the details. I did too, until as Ashbery writes, in one’s late thirties the world acquires a sheen, a post-meditative rose, beauty in both thorn and leaf. I ask him where he flies his airplane, and he says up. I ask where he drives his fire truck and he answers, ome.


                        for Claudia Keelan

Her father died last night in their guest room. Ask her the meaning of host. A door becomes the metaphor of a door when recognition sets in. Sangha says hot for light, but there is that, then. Childhood is for literalists: I sit too, he says in the wading pool. No basement baptismal, the water fills with leaves and he throws them; the next pool over, teenagers play at bartender and customer, throw empty Heinekens in the woods. A boy smokes. One wonders at these manners of play, what prepares us for contingencies. After suffering, there is bitterness or kindness. Memory is left to others to organize.

Bio: Susan M. Schultz is the author of { Material Lyrics } (2001), Aleatory Allegories (2000), and most recently, Memory Cards & Adoption Papers (Potes & Poets 2002). She teaches at the University of Hawaii-Manoa and edits Tinfish magazine and press.

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