Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Writing Superstorm Sandy: Amy King Finds Society in Words

November, 2012
The storm lasted 24 hours, but clean-up continues across New York & New Jersey, a month later.  Hers is a prolonged wake, no burial in sight.  Power has been restored to most, except those homeless still residing in shelters like the two on my campus.  Their homes have washed away, others dead while many remain uncertain about where they will go.  I'm lucky, I know it.  Before Hurricane Sandy came ashore, I had just gone through a break-up and was bracing to face the torment alone, which somehow felt fitting.  But the fates waved a wand, and my friend Matt descended with supplies and rifles.  We spent the dark hours with a radio and Trivial Pursuit.  The week that followed, when Matt returned home, is where the story breaks into fragments.  Without power & cable & transit (thanks, Mad Max gas crisis, thanks, power lines and tree limbs crossing their arms across roadways), I found myself with hours on hand and no real plan.  I worked the property, moving wood and limbs, cooking with propane and using my tiny cell service to assure the world and find assurance in the world as best as I could.  I also burned wood to stay warm.  
Power was restored to the local towns of Long Island first, I guess to give folks places to converge.  Lots of observations:  New Yorkers go gracious in trauma's aftermath.  Looting was limited and people got nice.  Now resorting to candles and lanterns, the printed word made a comeback.  I went to the local indie bookstore, Book Revue, in Huntington, NY for society and words.  Even without a crisis, people are mostly friendly there, and the aftermath was no exception:  chat and coffee and lots of reading.  The Book Revue still offers used and new poetry books - several shelves worth - as well as new journals of writing like Poetry, Washington Square, Harvard Review, Ploughshares, and lots more.  It's kind of unbelievable. In between reading poets still publishing in print journals, more awarenesses surfaced:  
1.)  Reading is thinking that draws ideas from the recesses.   What if I had not sat down, engaged those poets, and felt things rising?  My storm notebook would be blank.  Gives new dimensions to Kafka's "A book ought to be an ice pick to break up the frozen sea within us."  It is not just taking in another's ideas - the very act is alchemy.  The writing, the reading brings the surfacing:  alchemical regeneration.  Making things by scanning the print on dead wood.  2.) Annoyance over the feminization of "Mother Nature's erratic children - Sandy and Katrina.  Bitches are unpredictable.  3.) My break-up was right but emotional, preceded by signs neither of us noticed until the final cathartic release.  Not so much a bang or a whimper, but more of a series of bumps warning of the cart about to topple.  How many notice such signs?  And if such signs serve, how?  Shouldn't the higher ups connect the Sandy and Katrina dots with the melting permafrost that catches fire?  I mean, we're talking literal lakes of fire...   Republicans got a clue - New Jersey Governor Chris Christie praised Obama and NYC Major Bloomberg endorsed Obama during the aftermath because of global warming.  4.)  And then there was the discovery of a pile of Ashbery's recent translation of Rimbaud's Illuminations on discount.  Rimbaud's "Je est un autre" (“I is someone else”) also took on new meanings.  Reading the forgotten dreams of Rimbaud's neglect (these weren't supposed to be his last) somehow emboldened.  That Rimbaud was likely no longer bothered with acceptance or finding a place in modernism, he wrote what he wrote, freely. Illuminations offered a key through though, in that bookstore, a permission to carry on among the destruction and sadness - this is often referred to as the indomitable human spirit but, last awareness, that spirit needs motivation, a path.  Sometimes one finds it in the beauty of the ruins as in Illuminations, printed on the bones of dead wood, ready to ignite, if given to the deepest recesses.  
Waters and sadness rise and raise the Floods again.
Because since they abated – oh, the precious stones burying themselves and the opened flowers! – It’s wearisome!
--"After the Flood" -- Rimbaud  

Amy King is the author of, most recently, I Want to Make You Safe (Litmus Press). Also, Slaves to Do These Things, I'm the Man Who Loves You, Antidotes for an Alibi, all from BlazeVOX Books, and The People Instruments (Pavement Saw Press Chapbook Award). She is currently preparing a book of interviews with the poet Ron Padgett, co-edits Esque Magazine and the PEN Poetry Series with Ana Bozicevic, and teaches English and Creative Writing at SUNY Nassau Community College.

She has conducted workshops at such places as the San Francisco State University Poetry Center, Summer Writing Program @ Naropa University, Slippery Rock University and Rhode Island School of Design.  Her poems have been nominated for numerous Pushcart Prizes, she was a Lambda Literary Award finalist, and she was the recipient of a MacArthur Scholarship for Poetry. Amy founded and curated, from 2006 until 2010, the Brooklyn-based reading series, The Stain of Poetry.!