Misreading Gina Myers
I've been thinking about the second stanza of Gina Myers' fantastic poem "Young Professionals in the Rain" from the latest issue of H_ngm_n. It goes a little something like this:
Science now believes we each have
our own special place for keeping.
We each have our own word for loneliness.
No one saw what was stolen,
scars rising from skin.
No one can taste the poison in the water
but we know it’s there. We know
no other way. In science there is nothing
to hold on to. The smooth rock
in my pocket, a body.
It's probably rude of me to take it out of context but I'm going to do it because I don't want to talk about how I read the poem as a whole but how I misread the poem. I've been thinking about this stanza in particular because the first two lines made me inexcusably sad because of the irony of the word "special" in relation to the universality of humanity & the dull thud of the word "keeping," which I read alternately as open-ended verb ("keeping quiet" "keeping secrets" "keeping up appearances") & as noun (holding, retaining, protecting). The union of these two potentialities made this line sing to me, like how a Bauhaus song might lull you into an anxious sleep. I've been paging through Antonio Damasio's Looking for Spinoza when I don't have enough attention for poetry crit & this line of keeping seemed appositive to they ways that he talks about the mind creating feelings.
But on first read I was put off by the sentence toward the end of the stanza "In science there is nothing/ to hold on to." The enjambment led me to think of this line as Romantically anti-scientific, which seemed in opposition to how I read the opening of the stanza. I initially thought the stanza had a bangin' start but flawed follow-through. But then the image of "The smooth rock/ in my pocket, a body" kept with me. Returning to the poem a few times I realized that I'd been reading the use of sentences all wrong. Each sentence enters into the next sentence by the way it allows that sentecne to be understood. They are not seperate packets of information. The movement from "No one can taste the poison in the water/ but we know it’s there." to "We know/ no other way" is not one of reinforcement but of coming into new knowledge. Knowing the prescence of things we are unable to experience is the only way we can "know"--it's a system of tentacled awareness. And this is hwo the sentences connect in the poem. Each allows the next to be found. "We know/ no other way" leads into "In science there is nothing/ to hold on to" & the lack of holding onto is not a weakness of science but a way of understanding the lack of other ways of knowing, that we are fixed in the system of belief that makes us aware of that which we are not aware & also how the rock is a body. I was reading the poem as a series of nouns rather than reading its predications.
Not that I expect anyone to find this profound but I find it interesting to think about how I miss things in poetry. What kinds of readings allow me to dismiss a poem rather than what kinds of readings make me interested in a poem. This is different than the "everything is ugly before it becomes beautiful" axiom. Myer's poem is firmly within an aesthetic approach that I admire & purport to "get" & I like her work a lot. But the thing that makes me think about this poem more now only came about because those two lines & that one image drew me back to the poem. I wonder about the poetry I've dismissed that I'll never read again.
In other news I dreamt last night that my head had been cut off by a window & I had to hold it tichtly to my neck or else I would die. Here are my "My Votes for Most Devilishly Heartbreaking Vocal Performances in Songs I Listened to Today"
Skip James' "Careless Love"
Throwing Muses "Finished"