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.