Jen Tynes to Kirsten Jorgenson
One of my rituals lately is to go to the library and check out a bagful of books that have interesting relationships with each other. I can look at them stacked together on the window near the kitchen table and imagine looking down through them, the palimpsest of everything that’s happening in them. Occasionally I have the time and head space to sit down and read an entire book, but most often I just read some pages here and there. Part of it is time: like you, I’m an adjunct instructor who’s really struggling to keep my writing and reading life going alongside work that exhausts me and doesn’t promise much security or chance to move ahead, and looking at the spines of my carefully-chosen pile of library books is sometimes the best I can do. But part of it is also about what I want from and how I’ve been thinking of books: ideally, I could really toss them up like a salad and read their texture. I imagine sometimes opening all the books in rays around me and reading bits from each, bits that have the intuition to create the book I’m really looking for, the book I want to read and write. I know this is not a new way to talk about reading or writing; I used to be able to create and experience this because I was always reading deeply. But without the space or time to do that, I keep dreaming up shortcuts. How do you just get right to the good part.
Talking to you a bit in December, reading your recent blog posts, and reading your Dancing Girl chapbook Accidents of Distance all have my thinking about these things. How palimpsests and layers and textures can develop deeply and slowly, and how they can also be reached through shortcuts that are possible because of deep, slow processes, because of intuition and being inside and possessed of a body that knows way more than any of us realize or know how to engage with most days. Many of these poems feel to me like exercises in attention – recognizing how your own body may be tapped into the world in more complex ways than you know or can articulate, giving the body space to show you a little of that. From “A High Lonesome”:
Visible knitting nest knitting pink balloon knitting oak tree knitting oak tree a line of daffodils bright yellow cups I was holding a shopping bag of dog shit worrying
It feels like there’s a lot of Stein’s continuous present in these poems, but you include the tension between that sort of presence and the way most of us have to function most days, how history and future and tracking is part of our experience of the moment. You include this really crucial part of the present moment, struggling to be in it. You let your lines wobble in this really amazing way, and the present moment is changed because of it; suddenly, instead of a one-way street of attaining “presence,” the moment and the body are both compromising, reaching toward each other. I have never been really involved in a yoga practice, but I wonder if teaching yoga helps you create this space, one that feels generative and expansive not just for the writer or reader, but mutually deepening and slowing. Your poem “Horizons” begins:
a single line
say I border
and the rest of the poem is reiterations and revisitations of this same set of words which, much like the first poem of the chapbook, “Pin Cherry,” does not suggest other viewings or versions but this accumulation of days and experience. It’s not the cacophony of hearing every part of the poem read simultaneously or placing them visually on top of one another. It’s the experience of having one part of the poem “happening” to you while the other parts inform how you are present when it happens.
I’ve mostly been talking about how a person realizes her own body and articulates that, but a lot of Accidents of Distance also has me thinking about intimacy with other people and with landscapes. When I moved to Michigan about two years ago, I started (slowly – still slowly) writing poems as a way to negotiate and understand a lot of newness in my life: landscape, home, job, community, family. M and I would take walks in parks and preserves and wildlife areas that were sometimes shared with hunters, that were so beautiful and/but often had these hidden ravines of trash and half-buried foundations and broken-down equipment that suggested all the land’s other uses, past and present. There is always the startle of butting up against private property, a trampoline just off the trail. Weird deer when you least expect them. There is also the startle of climbing a dune and suddenly finding the lake in front of you, almost above you. Because I have been thinking about these compromises and palimpsests, I am especially attentive to those moments in your poems. Your experience of both your new landscapes and your old one carry this really generative sense of estrangement: seeing the familiar in the unfamiliar and the unfamiliar in the familiar, flashes or recognition and loss. “Nonsite: Memory of Reflections” begins:
can seagulls the geese needle a blue bench blood on the picnic table moving into orchards rows of cherry trees where the tourists pick their own fruit
The deer hunters in “Outside New Harmony” and the tourists and the shifting “yous” throughout are all others that the speaker of the poems is intimate with, and estranged from, and compromising on the present with. You seem to write about this most directly in “Home”: “
This space opens
White noise splits
the distance, the high lonesome sound
we sing together.
I’m afraid that the way I have excerpted this poem creates some false sense of resolution, but I understand it more like my book-stack ritual, that the song is one way of touching the surface of something deep and desired, something that isn’t quite, in this moment, making itself available. I really appreciate both the optimism and the complexity of that moment, written down, one after another.
Jen Tynes is the founding editor of Horse Less Press. She is learning how to read and write all over again every time in Michigan while the snow melts.