Thursday, October 28, 2010

from the other side of these words

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A few evenings ago I had the honor of introducing Burt Kimmelman before he read his poems at the Writers House. The reading was terrific and will soon be available in both video and audio recordings on Burt's PennSound page. I had read his book Somehow, taking particular pleasure in its formal and thematic homages to William Carlos Williams (and to early Oppen and to Creeley, I should add). I grabbed--perhaps too easily--a poem that would bespeak Kimmelman's method of complicating the simple subjective lyric: "Self-Portrait." Everything after "not" in the third line and especially after "but" in the fifth line makes a problem of the seemingly simple "lean[ing]" from subject toward object and the seemingly simple "here I am" presence in what might otherwise be a conventional romantic(ist) gesture. The poem succinctly points to an alternative to itself and to its mode; there's a gesture--indeed a gesture--on "the other / side of these [very] words." A simple complication. I quoted the poem in my intro and Burt then very nicely provided some book-making, bibliographical backstory - not discounting my reading so much as pointing me gently in another direction. I appreciated that. It turns out that the poem is the key or starting point to the book Somehow and was involved in its very design. And perhaps "the other / side of these words" is the dimension of the visual arts. It turns out that the poem expresses ut pictura poesis and is a poem-about-painting, words doing equivalent work of the visual: a portrait in words of an actual painted self-portrait. It was not about poetic selfhood in the first place. My misreading will make sense when you watch the video embedded above.