Paula Gocker

Gloria Bowles

Some thoughts on the shape of things. . .

Recently I had a poem returned from an east coast publication with a letter from an editorial staff member . . . a letter that left me feeling as though somewhere Emily Dickinson was sharing a sad chuckle. After saying she particularly liked my poem "Notes From a Suicide Not Committed,"*which she found to be "original and unsettling," she continued: "One visual aspect of 'Notes' that seemed to give readers difficulty was the use of slashes, especially at the beginning of the poem. I am, of course, telling you this for your information, not to encourage you to 'fix it.' "

The poem had been worked on over a period of time; the slashes persisted, they seemed important to me. I intuitively felt that they drew the reader's attention to the interconnectedness of the words in the line as well as to the ways in which they were not related. I wanted to draw the reader to this word or set of words in this way. I considered putting words on another line thinking maybe this would create the same effect I was after, but it didn't work. The words I had on a line belonged together / but / they didn't. / The poem is about disconnection--how we are always defining our terms--and it's about death, the wanting it and not.

The beginning of the poem begins with flies

gathering outside the door. / Some stillness
in the air/has made them come to where their wings/sound/
like the word: jump, jump, jump. / I move my hands through
my hair. There is safety in touch. /

These notes are for you./And you. / Like the flies. /
They wait /outside/a door./What I see/through

Slashes after the first stanza wanted to show a sense of closure in the thought as well as a sense of irony--the urge to die (jump) and the longing to touch something actual. In the second line of the second stanza, I wanted the tension between "outside" and "a door." The slashes, I hoped, would suggest the meditative process of my thinking.

In other places in the poem, I wanted to take apart language, everyday phrases, see the humor of a different context.

What then? Do we always
leave the garden behind?
Our father who/art/
if I die
Thank you
Thank you

Slashes are rarely used in the main body of this long poem. They reappear at the conclusion of the poem when a series of words or phrases used elsewhere comes together. The slashes reframe words used in other locations, stressing the new (re-newed) meaning in this context, that the way we examine our relationship to language is cumulative, that we need to wonder what we mean. I wanted a staccato, breathless effect.

I try
to say aging is interesting and find myself
saying This isn't me, this isn't me/on a window/
the sleeve/in the hat/out the door/rolling
down a hill/

I ended with a splash, I suspect, because I wanted to end with a sense of going on in this continual interruption called "my life," this life being separate from what we know, what we are moving toward.

--Paula Gocker, Oakland, CA

With recent world events, I have known, again, the value of the poets. In the last few weeks, the official state language has been particularly corrupt: words no longer mean anything when . . . a swap is not a swap, a summit is not a summit and then is again a summit, failure is success, de-link is presented as a real verb and--most important--mis-information is revealed as a conscious strategy . . . . Poetry is valuable because it forces what is always in danger of being lost: a close attention to language . . . . One of the discoveries of Trilogy is that "The fight for life, for breath" and "scribblings" are intertwined: not only is the connection between poetry and community, art and life, real, it is necessary.

--Gloria Bowles, excerpted from her talk "Community and Poetry: The Feminist Vision" delivered at the Emily Dickinson, H.D. Dual Centennial Colloquium, San Jose State University, October 25, 1986.

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