When on occasion I teach poetry, one of the main things I try to instill in my students is, to quote Spicer, “Poet, be like God.” To go from trying to write poetry to really writing poetry, there’s a leap that has to happen, and that leap is a realization that you are the god of your poem, and you can make anything happen – anything at all within the world of your poem. The poem has no obligation of faithfulness to reality or known syntax or anything aside from the fact that it must be made of language, the way we’re made of oxygen and carbon.
The task of the poet is to figure out what they want to do with that material – what they want to make happen. I collect definitions of poetry, and my own definition would go something like this: “Poetry is language that reveals the pattern of thought.” And so my favorite poets are those who are, first, thinking interesting things, and second, revealing, through language, how that thinking goes – the syntax, the sequence, the sound of their thinking.
In other words, I like poems that show their work, and the work of poetry is thought. Ana Bozicevic, both in her first book, Stars of the Night Commute, and her latest collection, Rise in the Fall, just out from Birds LLC, has an exhibitionist bent, but instead of her tits she keeps flashing her brain. Her poems think right in front of you (from “Intervals of Please”: “Through the war I fondled a picture / of a girl, right in front of that / girl”), and so reading a Bozicevic poem is like watching a film with the director’s commentary turned on.
See, for example, the beginning of “Paris Pride Parade”:
I don’t know what else to say. Really it’s the middle of the night,
and I’m sobering up from too much almond
liqueur, trying to persuade my body it’s
not dying. But it is.
At planet velocity, velocity of falling in love.
She’s right next to me. And I have landscapes inside me.
Did you leave these landscapes in here? Do you know that
I can change the size
of all these memories, just by the power of thinking?
And if tomorrow I jump off, and at the same time
think the jump back, would I not hang
flying above the bridge-water? Well.
The poem is instructive both implicitly and explicitly – that slightly patronizing “Do you know” tone reminds us – like duh – that the mind can change, if nothing else, itself, that our memories and ideas and even experiences are plastic, reflexive and self-editing. And so the life of the mind (if not “real” life) is like lucid dreaming, and certainly poem-life is a lucid dream. But this isn’t a lecture, and Bozicevic doesn’t just tell us, she embodies and embraces that potentiality within the poem. The poem’s future, its tomorrow, hasn’t happened yet, and so hangs in quantum possibility – it’s like “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” but we don’t ever get to the end where it turns out he died (though the poet knows eventually, outside the poem, the body will die.)
In the next poem in Rise in the Fall, “Death, Is All,” again we see this almost compulsive reportage of the thinking behind the text:
I cried. Show me a cypress and I’ll just go off, but
I don’t what that to be it. Or
some kind of poem you can never find your way out of! And sometimes
I think I nod at the true death: when from a moving train
I see a house in the morning sun
and it casts a shadow on the ground, and inquiry
and I think “Crisp inquiry”
& go on to work, perfumed of it—that’s the kind of death
I’m talking about.
That “I think” could have been revised out. The line could have been “it casts a shadow on the ground, crisp inquiry.” Still a good line, but the effect is different; it’s the difference between Peter Pan the movie, with seamless special effects, and Peter Pan the play, where you can see the wires catch the light when the children fly. And it’s different still, because the poet is God, and she can hide the strings if she wants to, but chooses to show them. Because she doesn’t skip that step, doesn’t hide the thinking, we are privy to the poet’s mind, how it makes things happen. It’s lovely like a see-through computer: show us the motherboard.
In linguistics, there’s a term for a string of words that brings its content into being: the “performative utterance,” the classic example being “I now pronounce you man and wife.” Instead of simply describing reality, performative utterances change what they describe. Bozicevic is a master of the poem as performative utterance, language that enacts and effects its own reality.
Elisa Gabbert is a regular contributor to Lemon Hound.