Lyric Encounters with Other Places: Juliana Spahr's This Connection of Everyone with Lungs and Robert Minhinnick's 'An Isotope Dreaming'
Williams, Nerys, Spatial Practices
My chapter considers the work of two contemporary poets, Juliana Spahr and Robert Minhinnick. Their poetry has been productively approached as performing an ecological writing or ecopoetics; critics have also focused upon their work as establishing dynamic relationships between the local and the global. This discussion considers the network of relationships established between lyricism and encounters with other places in Spahr and Minhinnick's war poetry. For Spahr these encounters are with virtual places, heavily mediated through information systems and newsgathering networks. Minhinnick's travelogue poem about Iraq uses the conceit of radioactive dispersal as a way of foregrounding the multiple transitions in his work. His lyric attempts a dissemination of self that can establish a sustainable reflection upon war. Ultimately, both poets' shared position of negotiating ideas of encounter in the long poem creates a lyric form that addresses war by focusing on processes of mobility, transition and inclusion.
Key names and concepts: Lyn Hejinian, Robert Minhinnick, Charles Olson, Michael Palmer, Juliana Spahr; encounter, long poem, lyric, subjectivity, war poetry.
In her poetics statement for American Poets in the 21st Century: The New Poetics, Juliana Spahr proposes:
There are so many rules about how to write poetry that there might as well not be any at all. Poetry moves words around. It rearranges them from their conventions. It re-sorts them. It uses more than one language. It repeats. It pursues a conventional language and divergent typography. It often experiments. It can be ephemeral and occasional. It often uses pleasing patterns as it does all this. And all that helps me think. (Spahr 2007: 131)
Later in her statement Spahr states that poetry is associated with movement, duration and transport: "The feeling of being set in motion, a feeling that moves one to another place" (132). These ideas of thought and movement recall Robert Pinsky's identification of a "discursive lyric" that presents "the poet talking, predicating, moving directly and as systematically and unaffectedly as he would walk from one place to another" (Pinsky 1976: 133). Broadly speaking, Pinsky's model of a "discursive lyric", posits the self as the primary organizing principle of the work. Central to this tendency is the articulation of the subject's feelings and desires, and a strongly marked division between subjectivity and its articulation as expression. What is most apparent in the discursive model of the lyric, is the immanence of the self and its centrality in the composition as the subject of the writing. Unlike Pinsky's perception of poetic "thinking" as an inchoate interiority that retains its privacy and inclusion, Spahr's ambition is to create a lyric discursiveness which moves outward, towards the world. Spahr's this connection of everyone with lungs (2005b) was written as a response to 9/1 1 and the Iraq war. The sequences in the volume create a space of duration and process, moving the impetus of the work beyond a drive towards a lyric epiphany. Instead of an entry into a corralled personal realm, the volume creates an important human ecosystem in its attempts to make relationships between poetic text, human body and world. This gesture to establish a lyric discursiveness sited beyond interiority is mentioned by Spahr as an ambition to create "poems dealing with the complex questions of how to talk to one another. More poems that acknowledge how difficult that is. More poems that look outward" (Spahr 2002: 8).
The speaker in Robert Minhinnick's 'Return of the Natives' from King Driftwood suggests wryly that "could be I'm / back could be supplementary information / exists could be I never / left" (2008: 97). Minhinnick's poetry is frequently cited as incorporating elements of travel writing, his poems often seek linkages between his native Wales and a global community. This claim is supplemented by his collection of prose essays that include meditations on travel, ecology, war and politics: Watching the Fire Eater (1992), Badlands (1996) and To Babel and Back (2005). …