ESSA MAY RANAPIRI
SLEEPING WITH THE DICTIONARY | HARYETTE MULLEN
This book really gets into the heart of what it means to ‘play’. Mullen uses two dictionary sources to construct a list of words and names that form an arbitrary collective. The books is all about the kind of accidents that happen when constructing poetry – and further more speaks to me of the accidents that form our social confines. Laws after all are only words and define our bodies and what can and can’t be done to them – social attitudes have their roots in words. ‘Blah-blah’ for example is purely about the different sounds that come from each letter in the alphabet – Mullen proceeds uncompromisingly through the entire alphabet spitting out phrases like: ‘Pago Pago, Palau Palau, papa, pawpaw, peepee, Phen Fen / pooh-pooh, poopoo, pupu, putt-putt.’ A poem later in the collection ‘Jinglejangle’ reflects the same.
With her use of names and mouth noises seems to play with words in a similar way to the Dadaists of the early 20th century.
This collection in terms of my own work feels like it gives me permission to be playful – to have fun with prosody and language. From reading it I started looking at the LANGUAGE poets again and found all sorts of interesting programmes online with which to scramble words or as Mullen does – play with the N+7 thing that the group of Oulipo poets came up with.
‘Virtually naive votes will be able to play when he is thieving three and anodyna wavy.’ this is an example of one of my experiments where I took an email I sent a friend and put it through an online N+7 filter. This is what it churned out.
I am fascinated with how these arbitrary constructions relinquish the authority of the writer but also deny normativity. Which I think is something Mullen is greatly invested in as well. She sleeps with the dictionary to deny hegemonic meaning – or at least converse directly with hegemonic meaning on her own terms.
She moves effortlessly between more poem and prose poem and nonsense – which is something I would at least try to emulate in my own work.
One poem that really spoke to me in this collection was ‘Eliptical’ which consists of a series of unfinished sentences which create this sense of whoever is talking is not being listened to or some internal function is preventing them from finishing their thought which really hit me – why can’t this person say what they want – what is halting them? It’s these kinds of questions that I want to provoke – perhaps…
My favourite poem in the collection would have to be ‘Outside Art’
A humble monumental
music made of syllables
or a heartbroken crystal
cathedral with gleaming walls
of Orangina bottles
This I believe holds the emotional crux of the book that flirts with play, comedy and all manner of tones yet there is something beautiful and sad about it all.
I am awake at 2 in the morning trying to think about this thing in my brain that wants me to write. I need it to be important and personal and moving and experimental and intertextual and controversial and agitating. But maybe I should just make it true – true to the moment. What problem am I trying to solve? Cody-Rose said they only wrote a thing when they had some issue some puzzle they were trying to figure out and you can really see that in their work… what am I trying to figure out? The world and myself feels too broad. G-d then?
I am reading Ezra Pound’s rules for the imagist and also reading a New Yorker article about how he was a fascist – it feels bizarre to feel so confident to take advice from someone I would ideologically hate if he were alive today. Like I would have condemned Pound to death if he were here and now.
An interesting quote from the New Yorker article in regards to how language gets to truth in everyday life:
‘When words cease to cling close to things, kingdoms fall, empires wane and diminish,’ Pound wrote in 1915. This is a correspondence theory of language with a vengeance. We might doubt the promise by noting that in ordinary speech we repeat, retract, contradict, embellish, and digress continually in order to make our meaning more precise. No one likes to be required to answer a question yes or no, because things are never that simple. This is not because individual words are too weak; it’s because they are too powerful. They can mean too many things. (‘Palace in smoky light’: could this be Buckingham Palace in the fog?) So we add more words, and embed our clauses in more clauses, in order to mute language, modify it, and reduce it to the modesty of our intentions.’
I want, like the Imagist and early Pound, to capture the ‘perfect word’ as the poem with the sharp imagist focus must – and I want to write some of these kinds of things for my folio – but I am also interested in this newer tradition which captures this more long winded approach – that digresses and moves in such a way that truth is through voice and speech and it is somehow still poem.
I’ve been looking at songwriting and the work of one Felix Walworth and how they were the first nonbinary individual I heard sing and how that singing voice is so flat yet carries a strange melody. I want my words to feel as real as theirs.
Is it pedantic to want people to change a grammatical function of the English language to accommodate my identity? I hope not.
I want my folio to be the smile at the apocalypse and the lonely look in the mirror, eyes looking at bags under the eyes.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
essa may ranapiri /// trans po-et /// they-them-theirs
“whale & harpoon” as metaphor for the ?self? no certainty like un certainty they will write until they are dead
[has words in Mayhem, Brief, Geometry, Poetry NZ, Starling, Them]