Radio at Night by Laurie Price
(Lunar Chandelier, Brooklyn, N.Y., 2013)
On Behalf of a Poet Who Lives Far Away
I feel the need to write on behalf of a poet who lives far away. Why where she lives should matter I'm not sure, but it does; both the far away part and the where.
I live in a place with a lot of poets. San Francisco. The one place in which I know that Laurie Price has lived but that does not have a named section in her book. When I asked her about this—why San Francisco is missing—she wrote back that her first book of poems was written in San Francisco. Radio at Night picks up where Except for Memory left off, in Mexico, where she moved shortly before it was published in 1993. Radio at Night is recent and selected work, “recent” being Spain (since 2003) and containing the poems that I had never seen. But for most people, the other sections won't be familiar either; the selected span a decade in a few chapbooks, a couple of which were self-printed in a handful of copies. One was an e-book and I missed it. I live and write from San Francisco, where despite—or maybe partly because of—all the poets and so many books of poems, it still can feel linguistically lonely.
I met Laurie in New York, in Brooklyn during Rudy Giuliani's reign. Gary Sullivan introduced us because we were both collage artists and poets. Laurie had made a glass book, he told me. He'd take me to her apartment. Laurie was the first poet I'd met who was also a collage artist. It was like being introduced to another cat with a similar kind of coat—Calico, maybe, or Tortoise-shell. And there were other things in common, although some things not at all. She made shadow boxes, something like Joseph Cornell, but with a quality of cork and wine...
Now, if you're a San Francisco poet, when you read Radio at Night, probably you'll think of Jack Spicer, because of that radio. But it's a different presence here—not poet as radio, (although Laurie certainly works in tune with an Outside)—but more like a radio motif, sometimes explicit (“the rich could find their radios here” or Sam the Sham & the Pharaoh's song “Wooly Bully” of 1965, or in a Moroccan shop a radio with no sound but with blue light and power) and sometimes suggested via details of broadcast, voice, musical instrument, frequency, or disembodied communication. The title poem is in New York, and here too, the radio emits light instead of sound:
eventually future retains my other
subject to imagination the story I do
now at night, whispering fan
and the green radio light
Yesterday while bicycling home, I realized that I'm an immigrant to my own body or maybe even to my own entire personhood. It's as though I just arrived in the country of it and don't know who lives here or how. I'm middle-aged and don't know the habits and customs that others around me seem to inhabit natively inside of themselves: am I hungry, do I have to go to the bathroom, where does one go to eat or to shit, where do I sleep and for how long? And will I be able to? Who will I ask for help when I'm lost? It's encouraging (but emphatically not comforting) to read a book of poems by an expatriate poet who isn't unduly distracted by either herself or her not-self. A poet who lives in foreign places and knows that she's not at home but makes herself there—and I don't mean “makes herself at home” there, but makes herself there. There are lyric I's and lack of them (lack of I's and lack of lyric). Her poems are both abstract and specifically physical, rooted in day-to-day encounters, which sometimes makes them surreal. My other faraway collage-poet friend Nancy Burr would like them very much. They don't know each other. There is no coterie, or even acquaintance. And I haven't heard from Nancy in many months.
From “Tifoidea” in Mexico:
Just staying far away
from what would worry
the uses of charm
like blue light hovering
to go away from then
toward a volume remembered
The years go by and the poems come “slow and sudden” the way, Laurie tells me, she likes them. One idea-in-thing next to another. And another. With what and with whom do we associate? There's a way to live a life deliberately that is different from deciding what one wants to do and who one wants to be and then going there and being or becoming that person. There is a different intentional life to attend. Going there while hiding out. Incommunicado.
Laurie wrote to me that she'd wanted to show a trajectory “of what I was playing with and where I took it, where it took me, etc.” A trajectory of what kind? Maybe a trajectory that she discovers or joins instead of one she creates and then follows. And this is a way to read poems for sense, sense that can be personal, asyntactic, social or asocial, and/or semantic by turns. Again and again.
Being always in another place in another language makes for constant mental doubling—”twinning” and “twixting” of language, with the ineffable also with the poet, waiting. From “In ornate defiance of the ordinary”:
I go to this other country which is world
I go to this other world without my books
I go to this other world slung between
running dialog, bilingual, in my head
and each thought stands for two or more
the twixt ungenerous at first
harder to get over
to the other
and with time
Each place in the book is prefaced with a photograph of a local door—opaque or transparent, solid or gated or windowed, brick or iron or glass—come into this country, or don't, or can you? Do you want to? She carries a liquid suitcase. New York is a country, alongside Mexico or Morocco, but never the U.S. The U.S. is not a country; many nations aren't. Laurie also wrote me that she lives “here” (now Mexico again) partly because she has more control over what comes in and when, and how much. I think she means what comes in of the U.S.
The borders of poetry. Radio at Night is one of those books of poems where, after spending confused longing bored impatient intermittent time with it, looking for a way in, the poems got through to me, in the middle of the night, all of a sudden, when I couldn't sleep. Like the poems in kari edwards' Obedience, they were immediately available when they hadn't been before. First “Liquid suitcase,” and then “In ornate defiance of the ordinary”—longer-lined, longer-running poems of living (I think illegally) in Spain. They got in—first those two, then the rest of them. They got in.
I live in my local body, while Laurie always lives elsewhere in hers.
Place is. Being where one is. Where one puts oneself, asserts full articulation.
We live individual lives and compile the marks from them, discontinuous. We're separate. Sometimes we can be understood but not translated, and sometimes we remain illegible to one another. From “Currents”:
I am afflicted by my own misunderstandings, have no patience for explanations. The voice of reason broadcasts over this foreign radio. A moment of radical silence gaps the airwaves. We're all waiting for a sign.
Dee Dee—aka Wendy—Kramer is a collage poet and archivist living in San Francisco. Her work has been published, exhibited and/or performed sporadically in little magazines, art shows, poetry readings, and Poets Theater plays. Her website is at www.collagepoems.wordpress.com.