Art & Aporatic Questioning

Certain things fill me with sorrow.  A red barn in a fictional world I created but no longer inhabit on the page.  The smell of river water in late Spring.  A front porch on a Main St. lined by tall trees.  A warm wind enters through the living room window screen and lands on my feet.  Despite the 85-degree heat, it leaves a chill.  It slips beneath the constant hum of traffic on the parkway where cars travel north into the region of New York where I’ve lived before but could not claim as my own.

The barn.  The house.  The water.  Their presence depended on the presence of men in my life.  I had the idea that I could establish a relationship to the place they represent in the Catskills by proximity.  I changed my last name to my step-fathers’ who told me if he and my mother sold the summer house there,  he’d build a cottage on a parcel of land for me.  I found a boyfriend who resided in the area and ignored the distance between my life in the southern part of the state and his in the future life up north my step-father would build for me.  I ignored all the signs that my step-father’s marriage to my mother was faltering.  I ignored my irreconcilable differences with these men.  I tethered myself to them.  Their absence casts a dark shadow and makes a void of me. 

Recently, I participated in the Sarah Lawrence College Summer Seminar for Writer’s as a poetry student of Roger Reeves.  Professor Reeves taught the idea of aporia as both a technical device in a poem as well as a meditation on what a poem is and does.  In philosophy, aporia refers to an impasse in a rhetorical frame that emerges in the radical contradiction between two ideas.  In poetry, an aporatic moment refers to the expression of doubt that occurs within the frame of poem itself.  The speaker might address the reader or, herself, and in doing so, raise a question about the system of meaning the poem has constructed.  The word comes from the Greek aporos meaning without passage, and yet its rhetorical function, Professor Reeves tells us, serves as a passageway through doubt in which new meaning can be generated.

In my relationships, I have reached an impasse, one that proceeds from a radical dependence on a patriarchal system in which my only entrance into the world is through my relationship to the authority of men. The forms of writing have provided an entrance point into the space between us, and language a tool to demarcate the dark.  I can represent the world.  I can subject myself to this world order and then subvert the system. As Professor Reeves explained “the poem is not a representation of the subjective imagination, but an interrogation of it.  The aporatic moment is dependent upon the dialectic that language allows for, not just between one idea and its opposite but between one speaking being and another.  The enactment of the subjective position of the speaker is what transforms an impasse into an aporatic moment.

I enrolled in the poetry seminar to take a que from poetics and apply it to the memoir I’m writing about women who are forced to confront the limit of a patriarchal system when patriarchs die or leave the women tethered to them.  What does it mean for a woman to have to mourn the person on whom her subjectivity depends? Because she can only exist in relationship to a man, in his absence, she can only exist in relationship to him as a mourner.  To make a long story short, these women are stuck, both in relationship to their fathers or husbands, and in relationship to one another.  This is where Professor Reeve’s teachings come in.  How can I do more than render the deadlock?  How can I imbue it with aprotic intention?

The poetry I produced for his class represent my subjective position at this moment in my life: I feel myself subjected to an impossible system and powerless in its hands.  I could stop there.  But, as Professor Reeve’s taught us this week, my responsibility to my craft calls me to do more.  The craft of writing presents an opportunity for me to interrogate the impasse.  Perhaps it is the only place where anyone truly has the authority and freedom to so.  Writing gives us the power to name the world we were born into re-name ourselves in relationship to it.

There’s more to say on this subject, but I’ll leave that for another day.  All I know is that that barn keeps reappearing in everything I write; that this sadness weighs upon me in the day and in the night.  More than cloak myself in it like a woman in mourning I will write my way into it, through it, and maybe, one day, into the light.


Creativity as Advent

Today is the first day of winter break and the first that I haven’t felt required to give my time to my education, to the commitments I’ve in the MFA program I’m enrolled in.  I’ve known that by putting everything and everyone else first, I was selling myself short and cutting myself off form the presence of God.  I’ve known that if I were to take just five minutes with the Word, that every solitary second of the day would be anointed with His glory.  But the world turns quickly.  The sun rises.  The alarm bell rings, then rings again.  The day makes its demands.

Even when we don’t call upon him, God comes to us in our time of need.  This semester, even as I was stretched thin, he came to me.  He came to me in the students I work with who showed me that in the space of doubt, inspiration can be found.  He came to me in my classmates, demonstrating how to pursue one’s calling even when the path is dark. He came to me in my teachers who saw where my spirit dwelled, encouraging me to give up the projects behind which I was hiding and devote myself in my fullness to the small story inside me which brings me healing.  He came to me in strangers, anointing me day with kindness, gesturing me to slow.

Every day I woke up late, dove to fast, nearly but did not miss my meetings, God was there, waiting.  Like advent.  Although I now call myself a non-denomination Christian, I grew up in the Catholic Church, and find opportunities to enact my spirituality in the Liturgical year.  Advent is the season before the celebration of the birth of Christ.  The word Advent refers to not to the moment of his arrival but to his coming into being.  It implies a period of waiting; in the face of doubt, in good faith; waiting when it doesn’t feel like time is on your side.  In each rushed minute, He was coming to me.

Tonight I lit an Advent candle and read a passage from Isaiah 11.  I was moving too fast.  I dropped my bible and as I reached to save it from the fall my rescuing finger tore the page I had been reading in half.  A passage about a group of people, exiled from their own land, told to keep faith that God will come to them. A people, banished; a heart, broken; a hope, abolished; the Word, tore in half, revealing glory and glory only.  The fall didn’t break the bible; it told its story.

I enrolled in this MFA program to tell my story – a story of abandonment, of broken-heartedness, a story of rebirth.  In these blog posts, I will invite you into my writing process – not the moments that I’m getting words on the page, but the moments when I’m rushing away from wisdom, waiting for understanding.  Here you will read not the story told, but the process of its being written.

- C.M.