Sam Rit: Many Kinds of Work and Kinship

Tuesday, 3rd January 2017

Last night was Ek’s wife Gee’s birthday party at the residency. I gave Matt a copy of “What Slight Gaps Remain” at dinner, which he began to read while the plates emptied and the karaoke started. Music and raucous laughter filled the space long after I turned into a pumpkin. This morning, sleepy hands are doing fast work of cleaning up the whisky bottles, plates, salad bowls, grilled fish, and Khao Tom banana leaves (a delicious dessert of coconut and sticky rice). The resident army of ants got to the banana leaves first in the early morning, but they’ve since been displaced.

My soundtrack this morning is children laughing and Thai music coming out of the speakers outside. The backdrop of the morning is work: cleaning, shovelling, moving tables, replacing chairs. I’m in the studio, at a different kind of work.

Today’s work is reading and recovering: mining old poems, asking them what they might like to become.

*

Monday June 29, 2009

I wish my mind could function for longer
without my body getting tired.
I wish my body knew how good it feels
to always go to bed exhausted.
I wish I were always exhausted
so I may wake up refreshed.
I wish I could wish for things outside of myself.
I wish I could always fall asleep to a
gentle violinist.
I wish secret admirers were not so secretive.
I wish my dreams would write a book for me.
I wish it would be an instruction manual.
I wish google understood me the way
my genius button in iTunes does.
I wish I could remember more.
I wish I remembered to write every day
rather than simply composing lines in my head
that will dissipate like sand in the surf.
I wish I knew how to pack my life into 16 boxes.

Once I knew a lawyer who was honest.
Once I knew honesty was best to offer with restraint.
Once I thought I dreamt a future, but I’m not sure whose it was.
Once I thought, I could do something other than this.
Once I questioned where I was going.
Once I forgot the difference between past, present and future.
Once I imagined a lynch-pin holding my life together.
Once I removed the lynch-pin.
Once I watched a movie in French and loved saying ‘Allor’

Now my cat announces he is ready to sleep.
Now I can feel the breeze from the evening air.
Now I feel the violin’s strings resonating in my empty fingers.
Now I wonder why I say these words.
Now I am ashamed of reading more than I write.

I remember when a minute felt longer than that.
I remember little.
I remember arbitrary information of no importance.
I remember what it is like to feel the future.
I remember to touch carefully and tread gently.

I have lied about lying.
I once announced I was 16th in line for the crown.
I have pretended to be trusting.
There are people who do not know who I really am.
I lie every time I open my mouth and do not say, “peculiar”.

Mountains move.
Clocks melt.
Cloaks fly.
Rings shimmer.
Curtains dangle.
Burrows empty.
Windows shade.
Final moments finish.

— from my 2009 blog Personal Cartographies

*

I’m starting to remember the stories that have obsessed me: the January morning in Scotland where I learned about Craig Arnold, a poet who trekked through Japanese volcanos for his next book and disappeared. I never followed the threads of that obsession.

It was recently after a friend of mine had died in New York City, and I was listening to “Run To You” by Pentatonix. As I stumbled across one of his poems, and the delayed obituary via a Poetry Foundation article that described his death, I put the song on repeat and read voraciously, everything I could get my hands on: his travel blog; An Exchange for Fire, a highly-detailed account written by the Artistic Director of the International House of Japan, Christopher Blasdel; everything on his Poetry Foundation page.

Selections from the Reddit thread:

I don’t have a way to verify this for you (I can’t even remember what year it was when I met him– 2007, I think), but I don’t see myself eking out any social capital from writing about my passing acquaintance with a dead man. Out of everyone’s recollections of Craig mine is the least luminous. I could emphasize his talent, I could find a better way to explain his extraordinary charm– something about how much he talked, how attentive he was– but actual poets have done that and I had better leave them to it. His partner Rebecca later wrote the collection Love, an Index about their relationship. In my job as bookseller I have recommended it to the few customers who ask after poetry, and I would also recommend it to you. I refrain from mentioning my own acquaintance with Craig when I try to handsell the book because it seems too much like ambulance-chasing, too confrontational. I still think of him. I hate that I don’t know what happened and I feel guilty for wanting to know because I barely knew him. (user: pninish)

*

He was an experienced hiker, but experience can’t keep you from all misadventure– (user: pninish)

*

When Craig went missing, I was working at one of the big poetry nonprofits, and most of us had known him to some degree — from readings, work, AWP, or social events — and his (presumed) death shook the greater poetry community for a while. It was strange to follow his blog and have it suddenly go dark and then hear about the search beginning. (user: askryan)

*

The name “An Exchange for Fire”[for the poetry collection he was writing] was darkly prophetic.  (user: fishsupper)

*

I have this sense all the time: of wondering what right I have to mourn people I don’t know. Sometimes I am tangentially related to them; other times, they are complete strangers. I know this happens frequently with celebrities — and has seemed to happen with a never-ending onslaught in 2016.

I had a discussion with Bartle about this just last week:

Bartle: “Oh, and I’m interested to hear your opinion about these “dying celebrities curse of 2016”

Em: “I think the 2016 grim reaper had a quota to fill that it didn’t realise until the last minute.”

B: “Or any of this “oh man, how crap was 2016! thing that we all apparently decided on.”

M: “So that’s tough. Because the global social consciousness wants to connect through hardship:

“This was a rough year.”
“Difficult things happened.”
“Oh, you too? Let’s come together and talk about it.”

It’s deeper than surface-level bitching. And it’s more nuanced than just commiserating. It’s human nature to band together through difficulty.

The danger of that is we get used to saying what everyone else is saying. “2016 sucked. Stop killing celebrities. Trump is the anti-Christ. This year needs to end.” And that takes us even further away from embodying our own ability to affect active change in the world, as unique individuals with skills and ground to stand on. It replaces empowerment with passive connection through admissible hardship.

And it becomes so easy to latch on to that global consciousness and forget that we have legs to stand on, that great things happened this year, and that we are empowered human beings who can participate in critical discourse and build a different perspective of reality.

But the other danger is: to dismiss the emotional rollercoaster of 2015 as “missing the point” or “group commiseration” of some kind (not quoting anyone here, just using quotations as an illustrative eample) is to deny the fact that elements of 2016 were objectively difficult for many people (emotionally, politically, personally, globally).”

B: “Yup, I agree with that. I just think everyone gets so funny when celebrities die. But there’s SO many old celebrities. And many of them have long histories of drug abuse. It’s sad when anyone dies, but it’s hardly tragic.”

M: “Well it’s because it’s not about the celebrities; it’s about us.

It’s about our memories and associations we had transferred onto those celebrity figures.

And so it can feel like losing a friend, because we have imbued that persona with all of these memories and moments and emotional associations. And those of us who aren’t able to discretely understand that we do that only feel the emotion of a heavy loss — without being able to say: “I’m mourning what X’s perceived persona meant to me during a phase in my life that was difficult/beautiful/otherwise meaningful.”

A lot of people can’t make that distinction, and are completely unaware that they even do that cognitively.”

B: “The cult of celebrity.”

M: “Yeah, totally. But it can be majorly powerful. For good (causes, political and social awareness, charitable and random contributions, inspiration of skills) as much as for mindless followers.”

B: “Agree with it all.”

*

We have many kinds of work. We work to affect change in the world, however small or slight or specific our contribution is. We work with our hands, with our minds, with our bodies, with our presence, with our questions, with our curiosity, with our teaching, with our exploration. We work in relationship with others, and our relationships (whether intimate, close, casual, or distant) are ripples that shift through time. This is true of our partners, friends, family. It’s also true of our connections with people we may never meet.

*

I’m in the midst of new work, and I’ll follow all paths, all connective tissue. I brought Rebecca Lindenberg’s collection “Love, An Index” along with me to Thailand because I anticipated this might come up again.

“A man disappears. The woman who loves him is left scarred and haunted. In her fierce debut, Rebecca Lindenberg tells the story — in verse — of her passionate relationship with Craig Arnold, a much-respected poet who disappeared in 2009 while hiking a volcano in Japan. Lindenberg’s billowing, “I contain multitudes” style lays bare the poet’s sadnesses, joys, and longings in poems that are lyric and narrative, plainspoken and musically elaborate. Regarding her role in Arnold’s story, Lindenberg writes: “The girl with the ink-stained teeth / knows she’s famous / in a tiny, tragic way. / She’s not / daft, after all.” Then later, of her travels in Italy with the poet: “The carabinieri / wanted to know if there were bears / in our part of America. Yes, we said, / many bears. Man-eating bears? Yes, of course, / many man-eating bears.” Every poem in this collection bursts with a unique, soulful voice.”

– summary of Love, an Index by Rebecca Lindenberg

 

Up until now, I only wrote one reflection for Craig:

It was the song — For Craig Arnold

It was the song, first, although really the story first. It was the poem first, and then the relationship, and then the rest of the poetry. And then it was sleep and dreaming, and a sense of deep yearning, of absolute care and love, of obstacles and boundaries, and a short sense of grief. And then this morning it was the song, and then a curiosity, and then I just couldn’t stop.

I actually resented my own physical hunger for getting in the way of this. But I placated it, and I brought supplies, and I got everything together as quickly as possible. Heat, water, food, set up the songs, isolated the poems and the articles and the words to read. Brought up the research, dialed back all distractions. And here I am.

How to write to a man who has been dead for almost 5 years? How to pay a tribute to a man I never knew? How to pay some kind of honour to how captured I am by his soul, by his story, by the way he wrote moments of foresight into the days before his death? Why does it matter, and who am I to him? Another reader. Another wordsmith. Another wanderer, who understands the ineffability of the always searching. What do I even have to say that could be put into words? What could I write that would break through my ice-layered belief right now that words are not worthy of carrying these emotions, these insights, these delicate washes of pure human experience. To say it is to cheapen it. To write it feels like materialising the immaterial. But if he were here, I would pick up the phone, I would call him, I would say, Didn’t you ever wonder how close you were to the edge?

— for Craig Arnold

*

Who are we to be so affected by the deaths of people we never knew, never met?

Better question: Who on earth are we not to?

More soon,
Emma

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