Assay@NFN15: “The Poessaytics of Form”

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Barrie Jean Borich, Harrison Candelaria Fletcher, Lynette D’Amico, Paul Lisicky, Brenda Miller

Barrie Jean Borich: read a piece that argues for this hybrid while enacting it via fragmentation, juxtaposition, and wordplay – argues for a focus on language and true subject matter over labels of genre.

Harrison Candelaria Fletcher: How do we make sense of images, pictures, fragments, debris? He used the example of Joseph Cornell’s boxes as a visual parallel, that makes use of the language of image, symbol, context, negative space, and the interpretive associations the reader/viewer brings to a piece. Quotes Simic’s Dime Store Alchemy: “we are all fragments in search of an unutterable whole.”

Lynette D’Amico: writing toward and away from images in book-length nonfiction projects, citing Barthes’ Camera Lucida: the link between photography, madness, and something else he can only call the pangs of love. For her talk, she focuses on 3 books: Lawrence Sutin’s Postcard Memoir, in which the pictures (postcard images) don’t relate to each other, only to the text/memory inspired by it, though the text creates a composite memoir in vignette fragments; B.J. Hollars Dispatches from the Drownings, which writes mostly real and some fictional (though Hollars does not distinguish) accounts of drownings that occurred 1875-1922 around Eau Claire, WI and pairs them with unrelated photos from the same period; and Paisley Rekdal’s Intimate, in which the author’s Norwegian father and her look at Curtis’ collection of photos of natives while her Chinese mother is hospitalized, written in poetry, prose, and photos that reflect on the author’s own mixed-race family narrative.

Paul Lisicky: used the example of hearing a quartet play in a subway station to reflect on the wish for simultaneity in writing – music can incorporate 4 (or more) things going on at once via harmony, counterpoint, fugue, but this is difficult in writing. Woolf attempted this via parentheticals, David Foster Wallace via footnotes, and Alison Bechdel via graphics, but it still involves a wrenching back and forth of the attention. Nonetheless, he finds himself resisting the unified “one thing” that ignores the possibility of multiple viewpoints.

Brenda Miller: details her experiments adapting traditional poetic forms to the essay, transposing these forms’ formal conventions into lyric essay versions – what rules am I bound to? which ones can be dropped and still retain the spirit/intent of the form? She experimented with the villanelle, ghazal, sonnet, haiku, and pantoum [she read her villanelle and pantoum experiments] and talks about what works/didn’t work, and whether the result seemed to engage with prose enough, or whether it just seemed like a formal poem taken out of its lines.


Heidi Czerwiec is a poet, essayist, translator, and critic who has recent work appearing inAngle,Able Muse, and The Boiler Journal.  She is the author of Self-Portrait as Bettie Page and the forthcoming A is for A-ke, the Chinese Monster. She teaches at the University of North Dakota, where she is poetry editor for North Dakota Quarterly.

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