Carleen Tibbetts to Cynthia Arrieu-King
First off, may I call you Cindy? You signed my copy of Manifest “Warmly, Cindy,” and it is with warmth that I write you.
You must sleep, Cindy but do you dream? I ask because the first poem (although the word “poem” doesn’t seem to do justice to they way in which you make language dance for you) in this collection, “Ode to Not Dreaming,” inhabits a dreamscape, although dreams seem just out of your grasp. I often wake exhausted with panic that I’ve been asleep to the world, and maybe that’s a good thing. But I want to carry my dreams over. I want to remember. I don’t want only the traces, you know? This cruel elusiveness that robs us nightly . . .
And what of your nightmares, Cindy? You write:
And after the splash,
What is it about this nightmare that makes me so speechless?
That makes the mind reach for cover under something plastic
How can you know the nightmare until you hold it up to the sweet comfort of the dream?
In “How Do You Define Bliss, Love?” are you addressing love with the capital “L,” or are you speaking to a specific lover of yours? You ask a lot of questions, but they are the right kinds of questions. Bliss is both knowing and unknowing. You claim it is “the hedge trimmed right about eye level.” You define and undefine gorgeously. You give and you take away, but the remainder glows. You claim you can “barely sneak beauty into my pants,” but I don’t think you give yourself enough credit here, Cindy. You hoard beauty in “an emerald velvet sack and dump it out” in these poems. Nearly every line in this collection left me amazed.
There’s one part where you relate that you were asked to teach a student to “scan a heart all morning,” and that a doctor “disliked/a too-bright quality” in your work.
I disagree. You light the underneath of things. Don’t listen to that doctor. Do you think there’s much of a difference between science and poetry? I think they are just different ways of getting at the truth, both equally necessary and equally profound ways of peering behind the veil.
What was it like to collaborate with Mathias Svalina on “[The Procedure Remained Wholly Mysterious to Me]?” I remember at a reading you gave, you said this was an ekphrastic piece. What works of art are you referencing here? The end result is just fabulous. I mean, “Whatever remains mid-verse/sleeps with both eyes closed” and “avocado ellipses” are some of my favorite moments in this collection.
In “Bonds.” Harry Houdini’s escape routine becomes a metaphor for the writing process, for poetry itself, so it seems. You claim, “This is the sexiest act. This is the biggest faith.” Well, isn’t poetry a magic show? A sleighting-of-hand? Do you think writing is a death-defying act? I think writing can be all of these things, but it is an act of faith. As poets, we have to trust our manipulation of language. As readers, we have to trust the poet is leading us to some bright little truth. Do you think language is limitless, Cindy, or are we bound to it, bound by it?
In “Poem to My Younger Self,” you admit, “My heart never fully pumps out its sorry.” This line shatters me to the core in the best way. But, Cindy, what have you to be sorry for? What have you left unsaid, what are your regrets?
I’m floored by the fact that “Texture of do-nothing,” “boys dissolve into widths of light,” Setsuko Hara is “Oyster-dumb, not hoping for grit or a pearl,”and “wind jaywalking” (amazing!!!) occupy these pages, but I felt “Deer of Los Angeles” could have been excluded from this manuscript. I grew up in L.A. suburbs, and although I have memories of deer trotting across the various canyon roads that connect the San Fernando Valley to the city proper (and impatient, wealthy mothers picking their children up from fancy schools tucked away in these hills), I felt this piece almost detracted from the glimmering beauty of the collection. With the exception of the phrase, “Every moment is danger, every bullet a woman.” That was just a brilliant, hot little zip of perfection.
Why did you choose to end with “Waiting?” You say you “regret not waiting longer,/so many hours filled with the intent to be lost.” I admit, I did get lost in these poems. I say poems, but what else can they be called? They’re like ornate nautilus shell fossils, once inhabited, but leaving a haunting imprint behind. You let us hang here, awash in this magnificence . . . please give us more! But, good things come to those who wait, and so we must….
I’ve been thinking about your title poem, “Manifest,” and how this word functions conceptually in this collection. When something manifests, it is proven, it makes itself clear, it is evident. Yet, psychologically speaking, it’s kind of the tip of the iceberg-that little bit of the unconscious mind that lets itself poke through. It fights against our need to repress, to keep in darkness-manifest versus latent content of the dreams that seem to elude you. In this poem, “Looking is a moss that needs space.” In my own work, I’m preoccupied with the gaze, the looked-atness of things, what is imposed and what we impose as the looker and the lookee. Subject-object relationships. I’m in love with this quote. I hope to use it as an epigraph some day. There is so much said and unsaid in this collection. So much burrowed. So much ghosted.
I want to wrap myself in “the sleepy lung of smoke” with which you open the manuscript. But I want to dream, Cindy. And I want to wake to the gold and brilliant beauty. I want to carry it over from the dream into the day, into the waking life. I feel your pieces are little exercises in how to remind myself of the importance to steep gently into the unconscious, to cull from it what I can, to coax it out from hiding. To let it manifest.
Carleen Tibbetts has been published in Word Riot, <kill author, Metazen, Monkeybicycle, Bitch Flicks, Coconut, and H_NGM_N, among other journals.