(Essay) In Response: Toward Passion According
Following an encounter with Jazmine Linklater’s pamphlet, Toward Passion According (Zarf Editions, 2017), Tawnya Renelle reaches out to Jazmine and what follows is a heartfelt, incisive exchange of thoughts around poetry and awe, movement in words, embarrassment, the body in writing, intimacy, reading and lyric theory.
> I am reading your collection today as I sit in my pajamas on my couch. The rain is coming down and with my cup of coffee by my side I am snuggled up and ready to take in your words. I know you don’t know me, but you should know I often read in my pajamas. I am enraptured already with your collection after reading the quote that acts as an entrance to the poems. I feel I should explain to you what I am doing here before I go any further. And really what I am doing here comes from one of my favourite quotes about poetry by Jenny Boully, ‘Poetry is an instant, an instant in which transcendence is achieved, where a miracle occurs and all of one’s knowledge, experiences, memories, etc. are obliterated into awe.’
> You see I find so often that a review of a poetry collection attempts a summation of the poems and while I think that is important, for me, poetry is a moment captured. It is a moment when time stops, and lines take hold of the reader. So, I thought I would write you this letter as a living way of reacting and capturing each moment of awe as I read along. As a poet myself (who would love such a response from a reader) I thought I would share it with you. Apologies if it is presumptuous to assume you will enjoy this.
> I have read the poem three times now and I am returning again and again to the lines ‘Beyond text~body~milk~blood beyond/(wo)man beyond contact beyond’ and it feels like a kind of returning to knowing, a kind of remembering of something I have always known. You ask me in the first line of the poem to ‘Remember you are elsewhere’ and I am in these lines elsewhere and beyond to a deep knowing and I feel caught by them and held there.
The world as (h)is
> I am falling in love with your use of / and () and I will admit that I have scanned the collection to see if it is used again and again and it is, I am filled with sheer delight and a kind of envy as well. I write words on the page and rarely play with the power of symbols to add to language, to deconstruct and to challenge language and to ‘enunciate sexed/un-(kn)own/ed.’ I like stopping a reader and slowing them down and your use of / and () truly does this and I am grateful for it. It makes me consider the words we use and what they can mean.
Heroines Female heroines
reclaim the elsewhere
Before I continue, I feel I must both confess and tell you something. The confession is that my knowledge of mythology is limited, but I want to thank you for carrying me through Artemisia/Susana/Abra/Judith/Diana/Artemis with gentle care and a way that I felt despite my knowledge I understood the poem.
> The thing I wanted to tell you is that I see connection and serendipity everywhere, it is just the kind of person I am, and I wonder if you do too? This last week in Liverpool with a friend I got a new tattoo of deep significance, a reclaiming of myself, protection of myself, and an embracing in my strength and power as a woman. I am finding this poem echoing those emotions for me.
> I read this poem and went forward to the notes and then returned to it again. I love seeing the many and varied influences of other poetry on your words. And after my second reading I sat for a while with these lines:
so all in name & lyric
so all & all unknown
like this like this
& this & this
And I thought about the unknown and the multitudes of this and like this that I know and don’t know. I also studied the page, your words moving like dance across the page in motion and my eyes dancing along with them.
> I am reeling and spinning in this poem and it is the moment of the previous dance that has sent me into this state. And I am sitting now on my couch with lines that have moved me into the space of obliteration into awe with a collapsing of my knowledge and experiences. ‘we are plastic arts: viewer, sculptor, painter, piece/bridge gaps ‘tween worlds: even when they’re spelled’ and Imitate art advert/incite desire, embody ideal.’ I think about the body a lot, I write about the body all the time and these lines have left me with so much to think on, the dynamic body that moves and stays still.
> And now though I read the poem in between (‘Pyrrhic Dance’) I am in ‘Lyrical Dance’ and I think this is my favourite poem of the collection, though I can’t say for sure yet as I can see the last poem on the next page. But in order to tell you what lines left me sitting here on this couch moved and contemplative I would simply have to type out the entire poem. So I will say I adore the use of second person in a poem, the way it brings me in as a reader ‘I want you condensed’ and I am not the you that you write to, but I know a you so similar that this poem felt as though it came beating out of my own heart ‘body re-build measure my line’ and I want to thank you for giving me such a beautiful moment this morning.
> Here I am at the end and my mind is blown (I wonder if this is very American of me to say) but your note says that the structure of this poem follows a film Cleo de 5 a 7 and I am learning French because I am going to Paris in January, so I have immediately added this to my watchlist. And then the poem is a response and reaction to moments in the film just as this is a review/response/letter/reaction to your poetry. I hadn’t known that at the end of my notes of reaction that you and I would crescendo in a kind of writing moment together ‘cut, like a poem’ in a moment by moment reaction. I am so happy and grateful for these words ‘A line in itself says nothing. But if you/use it to say something it says what you wish.’ So perfectly does it sum up what I hope I have done in this response.
> I will leave you here. I didn’t want to ask you questions about the poems, I simply wanted to live and (re)act and (re)spond to what you had written. And I hope that you saw
Response as review
Obliteration in a line
Toward Passion According
> When I received your email asking me to respond to your response to my poems I was full of excitement, feeling honoured that someone had engaged with my work and wanted to engage with me as a consequence—and then my trepidation set in—how much are these poems my own? I wondered. I began worrying at the edges of a half-remembered something: John Ashbery, in interview, trying to explain his relationship with time and how poems from back then, whenever, have slipped—are continually—slipping away from him, no longer belong to him, despite being reminded and asked of specifics.
> Now, I feel very removed from the (my?) work, as I read your response to the epigraph—I don’t have a copy of the pamphlet here, can’t remember the exact words of the quote—I can’t quite remember it. But I am taken by the Jenny Boully quote you cite—not a name I know, but a feeling I recognise—I like the quote very much. I think I agree.
> I’m pleased that one of your motivations was to capture your own response, moment by moment, as you read—I instinctively approached your letter in the same way; didn’t want to begin reading until I was ready to write in response.
> However, I must be honest now: you respond to my poems, and I cannot write instantaneously—I have to read, heart beating—feeling embarrassed and nervous——
> I’m really struck by—because in all honesty it makes me feel a little uneasy—your phrase ‘as a woman’. In hindsight, I think that my own relationship with ‘woman’, or maybe my relationship with myself ‘as a woman’, at the time of writing this pamphlet was much more settled than it currently is—which I don’t think is to say that it was settled, even then. At the start of your letter you mention the epigraph from Luce Irigaray, and what I think is most interesting about the book that it comes from (Marine Lover of Friedrich Nietzche) is that—it feels, to me at least—or felt, at the time—I may be/have been really wrong—that in this text she is trying to undo, or rethink and make some reparations for, the infamous essentialism of her earlier work. Like she’s asking for forgiveness maybe, though I’d have to return to the text to point out where and how I think she’s doing that. Being ‘woman’ is so torn—historically such a marginalised position, but nonetheless still constructed of such artifice, whether wielded for empowerment or subjugation. Denise Riley’s Am I That Name? really helped me to locate my instincts in something like feeling (‘it is called feeling but is its real name thought?’ is a line of hers I often think) somewhere like ‘knowledge’? I often wish I’d read that book sooner.
> I’m relieved that you jumped forward to the notes section and saw that some of my lines are quotes! When I’m writing I always feel like, if there’s a thought I’ve been circling around, or something I’ve been trying to formulate for ages and it’s just not coming out right, if I come across my exact feeling in someone else’s poem then that serendipity should be honoured, and so I do often quote and credit other poets. So, I suppose I do often see connections, in response to your question. I think the art I love the most is the art that sends my mind spinning off in a million different referential directions all at once.
> Your response to ‘Lyrical Dance’ is so interesting to me, because I have actually been thinking of it lately. Studying for my literature MA, I’ve been reading lyric theory. I suppose I’ve been thinking about the poem because, my first thought, when I started reading this stuff, was—oh no, what have I done! I’ve written something ridiculous because I didn’t know anything about lyric. But the more I read and the more I learn, I think, actually, feelingly, I got it (something?), even then, from the poetry, not the theory—and so I am learning (even if retrospectively) to trust my instincts, and so your response to this poem, especially, comes at the perfect time. I am so pleased it speaks to you in the way you describe. It’s so strange to think of the generalised-specific reader-‘you’ actually being someone—being you!
> Thank you for engaging with me in this way, and bringing my poems back to me differently. Can I quote you? ‘I am so happy and grateful for these words’. I hope you find my response to your response heartening, as I have found yours.
Toward Passion According is out now and available to purchase via Zarf Editions.
Text: Tawnya Renelle and Jazmine Linklater
Image: Zarf Editions