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manifest press

sometime awhile ago david wolach asked me what my “sacred texts” were. the manner in which he meant it, if i remember correctly, was that of texts that were somehow so profoundly affecting that you would find it difficult if not impossible to “teach” them to others. you could only hand them the book and hope for the best.

i’m going to go a step further, though, and say that these texts comprise exactly the kind of class i would love to teach. combined they create the initial building blocks of the geography of my current way of thinking about the world/writing (what’s the difference?). and they were all “taught” to me, in some way, either by a “teacher” or a friend, but all of my friends are my teachers.

stories and texts for nothing by samuel beckett/tender buttons by gertrude stein/point and line by thalia field,
taught by steven hendricks and david wolach
i’m grouping these books together because they worked together in my brain to create an awakening of sorts. until i encountered these three books i had no idea that the trickle i turned out constantly was anything more than runoff, the result of whatever “real” writing i was otherwise engaged in. i think reading them in tandem accomplished for me what reading them independently could not have. they seem to approach the problem of silence, of not being able to say it all, the struggle of the “thing” from their own unique perspective. perspectives i personally can relate to. beckett continues to babble in the face of nonexistence. stein re-appropriates language for her own uses. field tells fragments of stories in which the characters might not exist. i credit these books wholeheartedly with helping me to get my footing as a writer.

the poethical wager and procedural elegies/western civ cont’d by joan retallack
taught by lionel lints
one night at a party surrounded by some of the most brilliant and most pretentious of my evergreen classmates i was feeling exasperated at the ramblings of my peers and my friend lionel took me to the side and asked me about something i’d been working on. or some ideas i’d been working with, rather. i told him about hoping to break open the control of language implicit in the way we construct sentences, a control that i perceive to be inherently patriarchal/capitalist/imperialist. i’d become really consumed by doing these “automatic translations” with a couple friends/classmates wherein we dissected heady texts by writing through them together, vocalizing the text and our responses simultaneously, combining resulting texts in different ways, etc. and he immediately directed me to the poethical wager. i was vaguely familiar with retallack’s work through a little contact with afterrimages in one of david’s classes, but this book laid out her poetics in a way that i’d never really encountered a poet doing. living poethically allows the writing to happen. her procedural elegies (a series of poems whose group title i think is a pretty straightforward description) and the long poem western civ (a postmodern postcolonial cantos, of sorts, a feminist history of western civ, which, if i understand correctly, she intends to continue writing until she is no longer writing?) clearly reflect the swerve and the scarlet “aitch” of her poethical wager, a wager that she is, in my mind, winning. from the intro “procedure. the action or fact issuing from a source. a methodical way of determining how to begin, how to go on and sometimes–antecedent to elegy–how to end.”

if not, winter: fragments of sappho by anne carson
taught by leonard schwartz and kathleen eamon
this book made me understand why translators are so often poets. translating a book is a lot more like writing a poem than it is interpreting direct speech. this holds doubly true for translating poetry. triply so for poetry so degraded as sappho’s. anne carson’s decision to highlight the absences within sappho’s poorly preserved texts rather than to fill them in herself is profoundly weighty here, and i’m really shocked that she’s the first person to think to do it. the bracketed blanks spaces littering the pages of carson’s sappho are reminders of not just the history of the poetry itself that was lost in its uncare, but of the erasure of woman as an historical agent, a voice that carries ideas and realities. if she had never written a single original word anne carson would still be heroic writer to me because of her translation, but reading this book also introduced me to the wealth of carson’s own writing.

quantum psychology by robert anton wilson
taught by dustin bowden
this one is harder. i think that’s because it really shows my cards in a way that the others don’t. in fact, i’d venture to say that the other books on this list go out of their ways to obscure anything stable. trying to write a little blurb here about it is almost impossible for me except to say that whenever i feel depressed and hopeless i can usually pick up this book and read a chapter (often the chapter on e-prime) and feel capable, excited, and creative.

there are lots of other books that i would list as “favorites” or that have impacted me politically/socially/creatively in some way, but the ones i’ve described here hold a special place and an intangible sacred spark as foundations for my writerly philosophy, my poethical wager, to steal retallack’s apt term. and i think hers really is more apt because it doesn’t marry the philosophy to the writer. this philosophy is borne of writing, but it paints everything. it is everything. and so is the writing. a procedure, a process, a working through and working with. a living life.

what are your sacred texts?

i think my next challenge for myself is to make a list of sacred texts that aren’t books.



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