NYU Black Renaissance Noire NYU Black Renaissance Noire Vol 17.2: Fall 2017 - Page 164

Like sex, the sensuous coupling of words and the use of metaphor are primitive and privileged ways of being in the world. Sartre claimed the imagination was a privileged state of consciousness. I say it begins in a privileged state of unconsciousness where the erotic impulse sleeps and wakes, sleeps and wakes again. “Vibrantly incarnate” (h.d.), it woos and woos, then says a resounding “yes.” After this affirmation, everything seems possible. Wallace Stevens reminds us: “After the final no there comes a yes, and on that yes the future world depends.” Though poetry thrives in the erotic present tense yes-excitement of being alive, it also gives way to death. Psychology and philosophy alike won’t let us ignore the sex and death mirror, where, when we get very close, our visible breath is also the invisible ghost we leave behind. In the most intense moments of the sexual act, one “loses oneself,” nearly losing consciousness. Heather McHugh says, “acts of language too are acts of elegy” and like the love act “mean to mean some endlessness, and yet are throbbed through with ends, with a mortal metric.” Something suddenly courses through our blood the way the sun coaxes forth a plant from within the soil. For that plunge into fertile darkness, we flower like Roethke’s orchids, lean with his night-flowering, earth-fisted language, divided between death and the will to live moment to moment, to live in the fertile imagination. Here, like Theodore Roethke, “I’m awake all over.” Molly Bendall’s work always transposes sensuality with surprising elements of subject and linguistic invention. In her collection, Watchful, she allows “the sobbing / [to] take on a rhapsody” and the “big chrysanthemum flirt with death inside.” There’s a rhythmic course of action that coincides with provoking le petit mort, when thought and feeling work in concert. In “Spectacle” A breeze draws a furrow in his hair, and stringy meat gets licked away. Twilight’s pulse thrumming like so — bellowing near my own throat. “Thrumming like so” our creature selves vibrate, bellow, bear witness to the physiology in language as part of our relationship to the endangered animal world that is also our world. We work inside poetry’s thrumming beehive: We take wing, float, soar, and reel in a sweet tailspin through the compliant brothels of pollen, all in the process-occasion of making a poem. Eroticism becomes rebirth, a pilgrimage to the true primitive self. When words are aurally erotic, they ring true. On this long, eventful journey, we constantly reinvent ourselves. Call it kinetic creation from the body and the mind. I think of Man Ray’s photograph Fixed-explosive where the dance, the woman, the dress, together inhabit one wild movement. Mary Jo Bang’s poem “The Eye Like a Strange Balloon Mounts Toward Infinity” revels in its own linguistic passion-play between the mental and the physical: We were going toward nothing all along. Honing the acoustics, heralding the instant shifts, horizontal to vertical, particle to plexus, morning to late, lunch to later yet, instant to over. Done to overdone. And all against a pet-shop cacophony, the roof withstanding its heavy snow load. So, winter. And still…. The spider speaking to the fly, Come in, come in. This feels like an ars poetica, going… honing…withstanding and inviting us to “come in.” Eros, the asteroid, was discovered in 1898 and is said to get closer to the earth than any other celestial body, except the moon. The deep dance pull of the poem (and music!) intones a primitive elegiac knell from the center of our planet and the center of our bodies. We are going toward nothing and everything at once, like the astrophysics of a binary star. Consider Henry James: “Our passion is our task.” This conviction amounts to our inspired, untamed self-making, something we need and love, and require. Allen Ginsberg offers another version: “Follow your inner moonlight. Don’t hide the madness.” Art has taught us that passion, as a form of madness that disassembles the senses, is not only good for the process, but for the intellectual soul. For many artists, eroticism plays an integral role in their work and in its madness-as-intuition, in its role-playing entanglements. When else do we feel such vitality? Magritte wrote about himself that “one pure and powerful sentiment, eroticism, kept [him] from falling at that time into a more traditional search for formal perfection.” He concludes that what he really wanted was “to provoke emotional shock” for himself and for us, a diversion from how we perceive. Somehow looking at Magritte’s images, I, too, am reminded that in the midst of poetry’s heavy breathing, or co-breathing, a new emotional and visual provocation has been aroused. The unexpected result forces us to revise our expectation of the world around us in a way that our whole body is asked to be part of the experience. I know I think with my body, perhaps the way Stevens knew that “the tongue is an eye.” I have felt this while reading Hart Crane! Here’s some excerpted sections from the poem “Voyages”: 81 BLACK RENAISSANCE NOIRE k Trumpets of the Lord’s Amen Corner with singer/actresses Teresa Merritt, Bernice Hall and actor Bernard Ward in the background l Camille Yarbrough with cast of Trumpets of the Lord being congratulated by Walter Washington, Mayor of Washington D.C.. The show opens with the cast walking onto the stage in our church robes, singing “So glad I’m here, so glad I’m here, so glad I’m here in Jesus name.” In that spirit, we all sat down. But, as the first minister stood up, upstage on the riser, to begin his sermon, I found myself staring at the audience and beginning to feel outside of my professional self. I wanted to stand up. I didn’t. Tears came. Rocking came. I kept control. We had rehearsed for two weeks in New York at Ted Mann’s Circle in the Square Theatre, and at every rehearsal I had had that same energy pull. But I kept control then. On opening night in Washington, I began to feel that pull again. When my solo dance came, as part of the song, “Run Sinner Run,” I was more than ready. I returned to my seat after the dance, embraced myself to still myself, and worked hard to get back into the play. There were 21 songs that lifted the sermons in the play but, at the end of the show, when the whole cast moved downstage to the apron just above the audience, everyone was singing and clapping but me. I was shaking, jerking. I could no longer clap or sing in time with the song. I just wept, bent over trembling, rocking. I reached out to and wanted to talk to the audience but not from the script. Somehow, at the end of the song, I managed to exit the stage with the cast and stood backstage trembling, as fans and friends of members of the cast rushed back to hug, kiss and congratulate us. I stood there with them smiling and thanking them until Ted Mann, the producer joined us. He too was congratulated and hugged by the admiring fans. But, he was angry. He turned to me and hissed, “What were you doing out there? What was that?” I looked at him but had not yet recovered from what “that” was, nor had I the time to think it through. Ted Mann started to say more to me but, the fans stopped him. “Leave her alone, Ted.” They whooped and stepped between us. “We know what she’s ‘doing. She’s ‘doing’ what she’s supposed to do. Everybody knows what she was doing except you, Ted.” They laughed and embraced me and him. I gratefully thanked them and hoped they would go on to explain to him their understanding of what they had witnessed happening to me on the stage that night. They said I was doing what I was supposed to be doing. What was I supposed to be doing, I wondered? 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