Sculpture: The Persistence of Memory, Dali
This week I’ve been reading more about Elizabeth Bishop and taking notes from Art and Memory in the work of Elizabeth Bishop– Jonathan Ellis.
The notion of poetic form as a hiding place for autobiographical secrets, somewhere to absorb, codify and often re-imagine memories, not just of friends and relatives but of other painters and poets – Ellis, p15
Life and the memory of life gets so compressed that they turn into each other. Which is which? These ideas tie back to what I was thinking about Elizabeth Knox making me want to re-write my past. EB seems to be very certain of her memories and their clarity, to have easy access to them. But they are more than just memories.
Memory becomes a synonym for art, for that which is alive forever rather than bound by mortality. It takes on the indeterminate form of a ghost or zombie, something that has a relation to life but is, at the same time, on the other side of the immortal or unloving. –Ellis, p21
The past needs to undergo transformation though, to be transformed into art. EB uses memory but transforms hers by placing formal constraints on them. I read her poem In Paris, 7AM.
here’s the first stanza:
I make a trip to each clock in the apartment:
some hands point histrionically one way
and some point others, from ignorant faces.
Time is an Etoile; the hours diverge
so much that days are journeys round the suburbs,
circles surrounding stars, overlapping circles.
The short, half-tone scale of winter weathers
is a spread pigeon’s wing.
Winter lives under a pigeon’s wing, a dead wing with damp
She is playing with clocks and time, looking out from a confused interior, which seems to confuse the exterior, it is quite surreal (although she is not a surrealist). The title is certain of time and place but the content of the poem blurs this reality.
Rather than evading limitations of time (and space?) clocks, all telling different times, seem to lead, via “endless intersecting circles” into a dizzy solipsism. What do we really know? What is real? Does anything really exist? Are past and present separate? How can anything be truly communicated?
Her ideas are so big and this poem is quite depressing, they both make you feel so small and uncertain, vulnerable in the world.
Co-incidentally the exercise of the week is also about memory.
Remembered Space (an exercise adapted from Mark Doty)
Note: This exercise is in two clear stages, produced over two days.
- First sketch the floor plan of the first house you can remember. Next fill it in with details of objects, placement of furniture, etc. Next pick up one of those objects and do a quick mind map – a free-associated list of words based on the object. When done, flip to a blank page and write (for 20-25 minutes) based on this. Write in first person, present tense.
- Next day, make something finished (no more than three pages) from your previous day’s writing: an autobiographical sketch, a poem, a story.
I sketched my childhood house and focussed on the mantelpiece and a clock on it, of course, after reading Paris, 7AM. But it’s awful to read after that, I feel like a child writing one fragile, simplistic layer of a poem while EB has written a multi-layered, brainiac poem. I guess it’s just stupid to think that way, how do I break through to the next level of my writing?