Hannah Brooks-Motl

I categorize my work as poetry. Wait, that’s a lie. Here I am in January 2013: “What genre does your book fall under? Poetry… maybe, due to lack of titles and hopefully the kind of immersive reading experience one associates with prose, also prose.”

I do think about my work in relation to prose, especially my second manuscript which resulted in a direct way from reading translations of the first book of Montaigne’s essays. But the relation is atmospheric, not technical. There is a kind of big whoosh, a haze or gauze—I mean there are qualities of involvement that reading certain forms of prose achieves and that I think I also hope to achieve in poetry. These atmospheres don’t necessarily come as a result of formal generic experiment, by which I mean my poems tend to look like poems on the page. But generating certain kinds of readerly weather is important to me.

I’m struggling a little to be specific because is it tone I’m talking about? Mood? I’m calling it atmosphere, and here I’m reminded of Gernot Böhme who argues that atmospheres are “the common reality of the perceiver and perceived.” In this they resemble what we might describe as “objective” facts about things. For instance, an evening is in “reality” melancholy because its objects share something melancholic with the consciousness perceiving them, just as in order for a leaf to be called green (Böhme’s example), the leaf and its perceiver must also share in a reality called greenness. Reading for atmosphere means undoing the closure we normally assign things, including texts, so that object and subject both partake of an “indeterminate spatially extended quality of feeling.”

Attention to atmospherics doesn’t defuse but diffuse the poem; this seems important since I can sense disagreement even within myself about how potentially trivial poem-as-atmosphere might sound: phantasmagoric, slightly groovy, perfume. But mood-alteration is as much about willingly risking your own categories of experience as it is vague delight. Recently I’ve been reading about early modernist dance. And a few months ago I danced some poems from my first book The New Years in front of an audience. Probably they were made uncomfortable. I was certainly uncomfortable. But also thrilled. But also embarrassed. Entirely vulnerable. Who were these affects adhering to? Extending toward? Where was feeling ending?

Dance, or whatever it was, allowed me to discover new spaces and architectures, colors and moods inside these poems I had written years ago. I also read/do versions of the book that loop, repeat, or riff; that take single lines from each poem and braid them together; that can involve chanting and repetition. Probably I won’t do these things forever. The risk of embarrassment is omnipresent. As indeed it seems unquestionable that performance is passé. I don’t think of this stuff as performance, necessarily. I come from a family of doctors (who come from farmers), and also differently abled persons. Interest in bodies, movement, labor, and discomfort has been with me all along, but in a way that felt dangerous to acknowledge as interest. It was just life, and often really fucking fraught.

But perhaps additionally I hope to be part of the long history—generally ignored by literary scholarship—of poetry as a “live” art (an alive art?) Recitation, elocution, and memorization; Sitwell’s entertainments and the history of readings; radio plays, Corman’s radio show, and radio generally; poetry on TV; at your cousin’s wedding: poetry has always circulated and appeared variously, wildly. As poetry remakes language, wildly and variously. I’m interested in those other places of poetry and language, their weathers.

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