Welcome to Episode 13: Characters Kicking in my Door with our guest the writer/film maker Richard Hartshorn in a Haptic Cold. We discuss the mythos of the Tolkien universe adapting epics into film and the resolve of the character, who often is much more prepared for action than the author. In “Preparing the Space,” I discuss two quotes from e.e. cummings, and in “What’s on My Desk,” I take a look at Lilly Brown’s Chapbook The Haptic Cold. So pour out the last of the egg nog, start writing your thank you cards, and enjoy our last show of 2013!
Richard Hartshorn lives in upstate New York. He is the recipient of the 2011 Richard Bausch Short Story Prize, and his fiction has been published in Drunken Boat, Our Stories, Crack the Spine, The Dirty Napkin, and other publications.
Preparing the Space:
cummings2 and the Poetics of Being
set to “First Breath After Coma” by Explosions in the Sky
Both a thought and an idea, this is in between two quotes. A mere line. Both quotes are from the work of e.e. cummings. Both quotes came via email earlier this week from my mother. Both my parents taught me of poets. Both read their favorite passages almost nightly to my sister and myself when we were young.
My mother would sit at my bedside with ee cummings or Emily Dickinson to read me a poem before I drifted off into sleep. My father would set his chainsaw down and as we gathered firewood, he would recite passages from wild-eyed Frenchmen I knew from the pictures above his desk. But this is both, not about my father nor my mother, and yet is. This is about poets & poetry.
“Such was a poet and shall be and is—who’ll solve the depths of horror to defend a sunbeam’s architecture with his life: and carve immortal jungles of despair to hold a mountain’s heartbeat in his hand.”
― E.E. Cummings
As I write these notes down, I am listening to Explosions in the Sky, a band well known for creating albums that are wholly instrumental. At this moment I am not afraid of hearing words nor silence. But I am trying to focus here on the words of Mr. cummings, and yet I need an undercurrent of sound. Still, as with every note whether from the contortions of a larynx or the strike of a pick across the string, there is the idea, an expression, that beckons words even if they have yet to be formed by the mouth or through the microphone.
Explosions in the Sky is an instrumental rock band creating soundscapes like the many guitarists before them of early mornings with the first rays of the “New Rising Sun” to raucous evenings or somber blues of “Things that [we] used to do.” There is anthem. There is reflection. There is triumph. There is a world after the bombs have fallen. There is a light and there is a storm.
Here I could go on to discuss the writings of Mr. cummings; how little the denotations meant; how paramount the inner connected universe of connotation and the words being pronounced as they are written is in his work.
But that would be like asking a poet to choose, as modern day poet Norman Dubie was once asked in an interview, “If you could choose an American Poet that you could do without, would it be Whitman or cummings?” to which Dubie replied somewhere along the lines of Whitman because you can’t get to cummings without Whitman having existed. Whitman is inherent to American verse.
Now here, I will say in this day or age or epoch, so to is cummings. His notion of a poet is romantic, the last of the great warriors in a world where we only know of soldiers; an epic hero. The poet is Horus. The poet is Sidhartha. The poet is Demeter. The poet is Achilles. The poet is Aeneas in a single work full of piety and rage. And in keeping with the themes of this show, the poet is Batman and Batwoman.
She will walk through the depths of horror with nothing but a utility belt. In the cities I’ve visited with my mother, she must stop and take a picture of each fountain we pass. At home, her bedroom windows are adorned with pieces of stained glass because she likes the way the light comes through.
The poet is not here to judge but take note. When I was young and I asked my father about poets, he always gave me the same response, “Everyone can be a poet, they just have a different set of tools.”
This is the part of the song that repeats across a major scale.
“A poet is someone who is abnormally fond of that precision which creates movement. Which is to say the highest form of concentration possible: fascination; to report on the electrifying experience of being”
― E.E. Cummings
We lived on a mountain and driving into town for a gallon of milk or a box of nails was an excursion. If we were lucky and going to dinner at a restaurant, it was an event.
Gertrude Stein once said that we live in a period of late-language. Meaning. When we look at the moon, we see the moon as it is, what the New American Oxford English Dictionary defines as “the natural satellite of the earth, visible (chiefly at night) by reflected light from the sun.” It is not made of cheese, there is no man, there are no moon people, or what I always thought looked like a woman kneeling as if in prayer her hair flowing off into space behind her. She is a figment while the distant rock remains.
The melody is one of memory.
From the end of the dirt road where I grew up there is a two lane highway, that merges five miles down the road into four lanes known as route 250 or Richmond Road, it stretches through Richmond, VA, where I live now all the way through Charlottesville, VA, a town known for Thomas Jefferson and UVA, and a half hour to forty minutes from my childhood.
I think we were on our way to a Chinese place. My mother, my father, my sister and me in our two-door gray Nissan and I know I was young. I sat behind my father because my sister was taller than me then. I was learning how to read among other things because I remember pointing at different street signs like “Stop. Yield. One Way. Etc.” Reading them aloud, and then asking why? Why is that red, why does it have an arrow, why is it always that shape, why is green go, and etc.?
Amongst the rhetoric of my father I remember a few phrases above all others. One was “Keep your eyes peeled,” which always made me think of bananas sprouting from my eye sockets with the peels pulled back like twin stars across my face. The second, he probably had many second thoughts about: “Always ask ‘why?’” In a period before the Internet with computers in their infancy, there was no Google nor Wikipedia pages, there was no one to text or even call. There were only the people in the car. No answer every ended in “because” or “just is,” most questions ended in the third but perhaps most repeated phrase, “I don’t know, we’ll have to look it up.”
I don’t know if it’s right to listen to music while composing a series of words. I don’t know if that music should contain lyrics. I don’t know what makes a poem and what doesn’t, but I know what I like. I don’t want to ask a question and find the definitive answer. I don’t want to know that in 1923 the Mississippi Valley Association of State Highway Departments decided that the stop sign would be octagonal, while the circle, which has an infinite number of sides, screamed danger and was recommended for railroad crossings, where as the octagon, with its eight sides, was used to denote the second-highest level of threat. I don’t want a precision that stops me in my thoughts. I want someone to attempt an answer that is fantastic, mythical and in some way forms a period of thoughts that cause me to read and Google and pick up a dictionary and text and remember and read and write. I want a string of notes or a series of words with music or with silence, allowing me to ask why again and again. I want to know, again in the words of the New Oxford American Dictionary, “a form of energy resulting from the existence of charged particles…either statically as an accumulation of charge or dynamically as a current.”
I don’t know if the quotes of Mr. cummings should be treated as scripture, but when I approach the page, both of them will be there line by line.
What’s on My Desk:
The Tent’s a sheet with a man under it.
An open-faced lover, vision’s trick.
The haptic cold.
Go sick into it.
What’s the story?
Solids pushing me hard,
or imagined hands
pushing hard on solids?
Whichever sea we can set,
an iced up crate of spray
saved for later, skins
I run these thoughts down
like a list each night
and in the morning, they’re still here.
The Simple Hill
Black path, skinny statues. Each step up,
you throw a rock out with your voice,
a pebble, a jagged fragment of slate.
With each, you use your body
to admit what’s wrong.
You describe the problem
as milestones, and your milestones breathe.
So you go north; you make air different.
And in that split you glimpse
the simple hill, its retinal gleam.
You think to bounce your voice
off the simple hill to see if the simple
hill is a mirror or a box of breath.