How and what a poem or story communicates has always been at the core of various debates within the writing community. Ever since Plato kicked poets out of the republic and Aristotle, shortly after, invited them back in, debates regarding what and how expression should or does occur in writing that is “imagined” has preoccupied philosophers, critics, and poets alike. Some might argue that it isn’t the function of the poem or story to communicate as much as it must present a challenge to what we think of as communication or expression. Whether you regard a poem or story as a means of self-expression or a way to challenge modes of expression, it seems clear that poetic language necessarily functions differently than other written texts. Even with the charge of poets like William Carlos Williams (and others before him) in mind—i.e. using the natural speech patterns of day-to-day language in the poem—it seems clear that what we have come to call creative or imaginative writing is necessarily a different way of using language than any other mode of writing. In a recent interview, poet Harryette Mullen addresses this very issue:
I’m sincere in my intention to make meaningful poetry. A poem doesn’t communicate in the same way as a letter or a news article or an instruction manual. The way we read a poem is more like the way we interpret a dream or dance. I have to untangle these things from each other—sincerity or irony as literary effects—because once your work is written, you don’t even know who might read it, and you can’t be sincere in the way that you can be in an actual conversation.1
Mullen’s assessment addresses this notion of the poem as an essentially different mode of expression, and she complicates it further by introducing the impact of interpretation and the complexities of sincerity versus irony – one of the significant tensions in contemporary writing today. That is, the tension between making meaning and challenging meaning has heightened our perceptions about what it is sincere or ironic. The gap seems to have narrowed, which is an interesting irony in itself. Also, implicit in Mullen’s statement is the idea of writing as an interpretation, a reading of some sort. Interestingly, for her, it is a reading of an already imagined or at least “filtered” set of images and sounds; i.e. dreams or dance. Rather than the semiotic reading of someone like Roland Barthes, Mullen seems to suggest that this reading, which is a part of the creative process, involves a further enrichment of the imagination, which in turn is a further enrichment of reality.
The writers we present in this issue deal with modes of expression, ways of shaping irony, and pressures on the imagination in a diversity of ways. For some, the intention seems clear and direct, but no less complicated than the writers who critique and subvert the whole notion of intention. In Arielle Greenberg’s “One. Two. Three,” for example, there is a Dada impulse mixed with memory, cognition and the uncertainty of meaning. In Lucy Corin’s “Midgets Often Marry Each Other,” she asks you to enter a universe that seems absurd and exclusively comic, but on closer inspection asks us to examine our own assumptions, stereotypes, and perspectives. Paul Colinet (translated by Rochelle Ratner) unsettles us with subtle surrealist gestures that sometimes wilt or crumble and at other times, mystify. Steve Gilmartin’s sentences fracture, fragment, and flashback, often leaving the reader grasping (or fluttering) for “oil-perfect reflections.” At all turns of the sentence, this is poetry and fiction that syncopates and innovates.
With this issue we also welcome two new Contributing Editors through
the Double Room doors: Joyelle McSweeney and Jamey Dunham. Click
their names on the masthead to see a short biography and list of
accomplishments. We’re delighted to have them both
working with us, and we’re certain that you’ll agree
this issue is significantly enriched because of their efforts.
And, you’ve already seen at least some of the artwork of Fran Herndon on our “splash page.” Herndon is the Abstract Expressionist who might be familiar to many of you through her collaborations with Jack Spicer and her presence in the heyday of the Berkeley Renaissance. We’re enthusiastic and honored to be the only venue that currently exhibits digital images of her work! An interesting connection is to the interview that Mark Tursi conducts with Ron Silliman, a writer profoundly influenced by the work of Spicer and the other artists and writers from the Berkeley and San Francisco Renaissance.
Finally, we’re pleased, once again to provide a variety of international writers who have been translated from their original language into English. This includes Paul Colinet (French), Shang Qin (Chinese), Martin Reiner (Czech), and Kim Hyesoon (Korean). Enjoy the issue!
1. Jenkins, Grant. “Feeding the Gods: An Interview with Harryette Mullen.” Rain Taxi (Fall 2005: Vol. 10, No.3).