Miranda Field's Off-Topic Reads

September 30th, 2017

Miranda Field was born in North London, UK, and came to the US as an undergraduate. She currently lives in New York City. Married to poet Tom Thompson, with whom she has two children, she teaches poetry (and occasionally fiction) at NYU, Barnard, the New School, and in individual sessions, privately. Her first book of poems, Swallow, was published by Houghton Mifflin in 2002. Miranda Field reads from and discusses Imaginary Royalty on Friday 10/6, 6:30pm at 57th Street Books.

Book of Mutter, by Kate Zambreno - I'm interested in alternative memoir forms. Zambreno's book is a kind of memory-collage, with much of the fictionalized connective tissue of traditional memoir (extended dialog, fully fleshed-out scenes, narrative continuity, etc.) left out. It's a hybrid: not a regular memoir, not an extended sequence of prose poems, but something between. It feels accurate to me, and real. Like poetry, it makes white-space-- what's left out of the telling-- a vital, palpable presence. It expresses inexpressibility. Inexpressibility is what I wrestle with. I think it's what makes poems happen.
A Sorrow Beyond Dreams, by Peter Handke
My Private Property, by Mary Ruefle - She's been a favorite of mine, since I was an MFA student at Vermont College, where I tried to work with her, one on one, as an advisor-mentor. I think I alienated her badly one drunken new year's eve, at a party (I vaguely remember describing how I might murder Camille Paglia with my bare hands (!?)), so my bid to work with her failed, but I have continued to be a huge fan. These are incredibly intimate prose poems, in which the real and surreal constantly commingle, and a lovely dark, wry, dry humor oversees the whole operation. Ruefle's speaker is lonely, weepy, witty, and a magician of language. The poems feel nakedly honest and yet are deeply absorbed in the game of dress-up, of mask-making. I think of Ruefle's speaker as sort of love-child of Alice and the hookah-smoking caterpillar and Lewis Carroll and Oscar Wilde and Joan Didion, and Emily Dickinson, and Emily Dickinson's "littlest housewife in the grass," if so many could collaborate on making one soul-with-a-voice live.
What Could Be, by David Hilliard; with an introductory essay by Ariel Levy, and an interview by Pam Houston -  I've always felt that photographs are poems. Hillard's photographs , particularly as they stand illuminated by Levy's words, are, I suppose, realist poems; yet they are very much staged (as are all poems) and make use of "masks"-- not literally (the people in the pictures don't look like animals or clowns), but in the same way a poem's most "honest" and direct thinking/feeling is really voiced through various forms of artifice-- some extremely subtle, some obvious. As levy says, these are "made pictures," not "taken pictures." They are real-world situations (sort of), but they are heightened and changed. They express to me something of what Elizabeth Bishop called "everyday surrealism," or-- no-- the everyday magical-realism that doesn't show us people turning into angels or any of the more over-the-top baroquery. Just enough staging to lend the viewer a heightened awareness of the subject's desires, the sources of longing, and rue, distance, and intense intimacy. And everything possessing a kind of lit-from-within quality that transfixes.
Inside the Neolithic Mind, by David Lewis Williams and David Pearce -  I've only just begun to read this book, which I bought on the recommendation of a Facebook friend. I got my copy in a used bookstore, and found a second copy online for a close poet-friend. When she posted a picture of the book's cover in her Facebook feed, a third poet-friend said he was going to read it too, maybe we'd start a kind of book club. After that, other poets (about 3/4 of my Facebook "friends" are poets), commented: "amazing book," "life-changing," etc. I guess it's a sort of underground poet cult favorite. I've read the first two chapters, and I'm hooked. Consciousness, belief systems, their relation to the hard-wiring of our brains; the social transformations of the Neolithic period. Origins and manifestations of the religious, imaginative, and artistic impulses in human consciousness, as evidenced in the archaeological record. A feast of a book.

About Imaginary Royalty: These harrowing poems focus on how human connection can both transcend devastation as well as complicate our individual sense of existence. We witness the devastating impact of loss on a group of sisters, while also following the isolated self's ongoing navigation of an ever-changing world. Through it all, the sisters in Imaginary Royalty live and breathe as one: "None of us is her own grown self now. Re-conjoined, four sisters. The magnetic pull is awful, gravity unbearable, and, oh our bodies are staved. It is the center we seize around, the sister in whom the hole has opened. The cold blows through us all" (from "A Soul So Watched").
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