reading p.inman - part three
Since this is going to be a long post I thought I'd break it up with a couple of images, and it's only fair to explain what they are and why they're here. They are two consecutive pages from the notebook in which I'm writing these posts first. Now generally I don't plan blog posts in longhand, but since this is going to extend to around five posts, and since I'm trying to go into a lot of detail I wanted the extra security of notes. I've chosen the two pages to illustrate that this isn't a straightforward process. The first of the pages came after nearly 3 pages had been written today. The section in square brackets marked with an asterisk is something that really should have been written first - and in what follows does come first. The second page simply illustrates a lot of erasures, rephrasings, and uncertainty over paragraph breaks. They are meant to reflect my own uncertainty about Ad Finitum, which is one of the subjects of today's post.
The other instalments can be found at the following links:
And you can buy your own copy of Ad Finitum from if p then q
In the discussion of aengus in the second of these posts I failed to mention an important aspect of my reading of both the poem and the book. It was this, that there are potential puns in the poems, which may be intentional or may just be imagined. That is, they may be the product of the reader searching for patterns, for anything familiar or recognisable. The two examples I had in mind were neapl., which I speculated could be read as a mispronunciation of nipple, and 'anisette. / pages.', which even more improbably I thought could be read as 'Annie set pages'. Because I was aware that these apparent puns are more or less phantoms, and because I was embarrassed at potentially looking silly I left the examples out. Partly justifying it to myself by arguing that it might be confusing for readers.
Almost immediately I regretted the decision. This exercise isn't about me, and it's not about making me look good. My aim is to draw attention to what I think is a fantastic book. Not to provide an authoritative set of statements about it, not to attempt to explain the poems, and certainly not to substitute for reading the book. Rather I want to show people the process of one ordinary reader, with no special insight, coming to grips with Ad Finitum in an honest way. The hope being that my questions, mistakes and anxieties would reflect those of other readers. That it might perhaps give others confidence in their reading, and help demonstrate that it's legitimate, normal, even desirable to struggle with a book. That it's better to acknowledge that struggle than pretend otherwise. And finally to argue that I see reading as an active, ongoing process, not a static absorbing of information. For all these reasons it felt dishonest, selfish and unfair not to reflect what was an important part of my reading.
n.even, n.else is close to being the physical centre of Ad Finitum the book, and is one of the longer poems, though shorter than acoma. The spatial arrangement of words on the page is closer to that seen in ilieu (2) or aengus previously in the book, than to 14 panels for Lynne Dreyer or pluper later on. Some words return, for instance lace. appeared in aengus as laced., and in acoma as shoelace. Later, in situ it will appear as lacy, and lace, in Roscoe Mitchell (nonaah) as lace, and in 14 panels for Lynne Dreyer and pluper. In another book this might not be noticeable or significant, here it is. Other words in n.even, n.else that return more than once in Ad Finitum are ink., leak., and thumb. Several recur within the poem itself. This may be one of the reasons why I've taken n.even, n.else to be, along with sided and situ which follow, a kind of pivot point in the collection. They gather elements from, and link together, the earlier and later parts of the book.
But again, and consistently so far in my reading, I haven't really given you any sense of what it's like reading the poetry. This is important, the poetry is why I've chosen to write these posts. I would hope that for anyone who might be reading, the poetry is why you've chosen to read this. It's time then to put the theorising aside and look at the book as something you will actually pick up and read, and enjoy. So, it's a winter evening and you're sat in a chair while it rains outside. Or it's summer and you're on holiday under the shade of a tree. Or... well, you get the idea. You pick up the book and start reading. After a while someone asks you what you're reading, so you tell them. It's poetry, it's called Ad Finitum, it's by an American writer called P.Inman. Shockingly our imaginary questioner hasn't read the book, and knows nothing about P.Inman. They ask you what the book's like. You decide not to be facetious and try to give an honest answer. What do you say? What do you say that will make them want to read the book? This is after all one of the things I'm trying to achieve with these posts. Now clearly, since you might be reading the book while sat on a bus to work, or since you might want to impress your inquisitor, you can't really launch into several thousand words of confused exposition. You have to summarise briefly, clearly, and you hope interestingly, why you're reading the book, what you enjoy about it, and why they should give it a try.
I think my answer would be something like,
It's partly about language, about words. It's about how they have a beauty of their own. You know when you gather pebbles off the beach or out of a river and they're gorgeous when they're wet? It's kind of like that. He's found a way of gathering unconnected words and keeping that shine. You can play with the words, roll them about. Even if you don't understand what something means it's just nice to look at them, and to hold, and to listen to the words.
This is why I don't get laid.
My speculative explanation hints at potentially fruitful approach to Ad Finitum. But it's an approach that has dangers. This is to approach the text as something inherently meaningless. Instead of reading the book in an interrogative way, instead of trying to extract meaning from every tiny aspect, treat the words as something else. Imagine you're staring at clouds, or listening to waves on a beach. This may be difficult. You may not often take time out to do nothing. You may even have lost the skill you almost certainly had as a child to absorb your attention in little things. I would recommend that you go off now and spend an hour doing nothing. Not writing or drawing, not talking on the phone, not reading, not cooking. Not even thinking. If you find yourself thinking switch your attention away from the thought. The only acceptable actions are to look and to listen. Just look at what's around you, what passes you by. Listen to all the sounds you can hear. Try not to filter things out. It can be quite overwhelming and alarming, but give it a go.
Today I walked out to Chorlton Water Park and did exactly that. I found a dead tree in tall grass out of sight of any road and sat on it for an hour. Nothing happened. There was a lot of bird song on all sides and some underlying traffic noise to the left. Occasional patches of light passed over trees and grass. Clouds moved slowly. A heron made an extraordinary twisting flight up from trees and then back into other trees. Flies, spiders and beetles walked on me. The dead tree I sat on shook as small birds hopped on the the branches. A clicking, almost insect-like birdsong in the grass moved closer to my seat from the right. Grasses nodded and rocked in wind.
Nothing happened. Or at least there was no meaning to any of the things that happened. I resisted my own attempts to give them meaning. But in spite of the lack of meaning, in spite of nothing happening, I enjoyed myself. The experience was enough. This, I think, may be a useful way to read Ad Finitum. To abandon reading strategies, to allow the poems to happen.
There is a danger to this. Reading in this way could be used to excuse all sorts of bilge, to ignore any number of shortcomings in a writer. I'd suggest it's only ever to be used cautiously if other approaches don't work. How it works with Ad Finitum is something I'll cover next time.