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Judges of characters
08. 3.05

Uncivilized discourse

Ransom notes

  Ransom notes
by Kathy Douglas
What is it that seeps in in passing? How does this subconscious bombardment affect me? Am I going to just sit back and take it?

people who judge youThis is the story of rabbit people who have no idea. This is our home. Yes, we can all get along, drinking coffee and talking about intimate, creative conversation. But how do we talk about conversation? And why?

As a reader, I am bombarded with words and phrases as we are bombarded with sound bytes and images. Even though I never sit down in front of the news unless war is unfolding, news seeps in. Headlines in newspaper kiosks, blurbs while changing channels, conversations overheard, David Letterman’s intro on the off night of no sleep. I’m fascinated by the sound and image and bytes of text that impress even the unimpressable, so impressively we don’t even know they’re there. Inexplicably I need a bacon cheese ranchero burger and new spring shoes.

Though I often actually read the articles in Harper’s, The New Yorker and my local hospital magazine, I begin with photos and cartoons, flipping through to find Roz Chast, Richard Avedon, healthy living tips, or the theatrical flavor of the week. In the process, “obsession,” “clear, lucid, diamond-hard writing,” and “tastefully explicit spanking” become lodged in my brain. Lodged in electrical impulse or whatever the place where short term memories lie.

As a poet, I’m constantly searching for ways to access the subconscious — journaling morning dreams, creating silences in which to hear what my heart tells. As a visual collagist, I’m interested in how the way of an image or texture or color leads on to way when placed next to an analogous image, texture or color. Within the constraints of self-chosen images or visual bytes, a whole is created by synthesis. And so it is with these poems — synthesis of word, type, color, and visual and literary placement. Synthesis is a most gratifying activity — the coming together of disparate parts as both creation and peacemaking.

As a visual collage may follow subverted visual rules with line, texture, color and depth, these word collages follow the rules of grammar. Subject, object, participle, article. Nouns and verbs in proscribed order. Although the palette is chosen by loose meditation on connection or repetition or emerging themes, in the synthesis it almost doesn’t matter what the words are as long at they fit grammatically. Ideally the selection process has laid the ground for profundity.

After all, we drankI never thought I’d never find sublime … not leaving home without seeking to understand the creation and the issues that confront it.

I’ve been asked how using the words and phrases of others informs the poems. I can not help but be influenced by the reading I’ve done, even in passing. In some ways this is the whole point of the work. What is it that seeps in in passing? How does this subconscious bombardment affect me? Am I going to just sit back and take it? What can I make of it that is my own? As Annie Dillard has said of found poetry writing, it enables poets to “paw through popular culture like sculptors on trash heaps.” I am pawing through the “unpopular” as well.

In some cases, particularly when using the ridiculous phrase, “Nature has mountains, canyons, rain and snow” from an auto ad, there is de facto subversion and social commentary. Likewise when using a vacuous book blurb from The Boston Globe. But this is not the point. And I suppose visually, I veer towards cliche with The New Yorker’s and Roz Chast’s easily recognizable fonts (see Derek Slater’s “Take Another Little Piece of My Art” for a discussion on sampling and the exhibit “Illegal Art”), though they are used sparingly.

I prefer to think of medium as Webster’s defines it: “an intervening substance through which something else is transmitted or carried on.” While being influenced by the intervening substance, whether advertisements, personals, quotes selected by Harper’s editors to stand out on the page (selected by me largely for their bigger size), the words and phrases gleaned are transformed into that something else. I don’t always remember who wrote what word or why or from whence it came.

Mainly I am creating my own reality of words, ransom notes to my soul. In a way these poems are exercises to grease the wheels, “exercise” being the harshest criticism which I may as well unleash myself.

But as the technical buffers in making prints have taken me from the roteness and self-censorship of direct hand to brush to canvas or hand to pencil to paper in the creation of visual work, the “technology” of scissors and glue and a limited self-selected-then-forgotten word palette provides a buffer to take mind from mindfulness, from self-consciousness.

RA and hingsBesides, I AM sick of the NRA and the disappointing warm things, aren’t you? Isn’t it time to admit that the far corners of the world are infallible? Check RA and hingsthe evidence, the great atomic accuracy. I am writing the greatest diary that has ever been written. Click on my puzzle.
| 31 August 2003

Kathy Douglas is a poet living in New Haven, CT.

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