(SPAM Cuts) ‘From March, The Month of Winds’ by Gloria Dawson
In this SPAM Cut, Maria Sledmere explores the poetics of touch, intimacy and time in Gloria Dawson’s sequence, ‘From March, the Month of Winds’, published in amberflora.
> I’m a sucker for seasonal poems, time-stamp poems, date poems and poems of the month. I think of Buddy Willard in The Bell Jar telling Esther Greenwood, aspiring writer, that a poem is ‘just a piece of dust’. If dust settles on something, then I’d like it to be arbitrary constructions of life’s movement and passing. Poem dust might be the accumulative detritus of a language left out to glow, rust or rot in time. Willard might mean dust in a derogatory sense, but there’s something about that image of a particle, accumulated from pieces of fabric, perished insects, hair and skin, that belies his implication of the uselessly intangible. Just dust? If Willard is training to be a medic, should he not realise that dust is of our bodies, and so a poem must carry corporeal traces? Poem dust might help us remember a weekend away, the specialness of an instant, a period of strife or desire, a solstice, a birth or death. It is a settling, and yet it may stir when the reader takes a breath, disturbs it.
> Gloria Dawson’s selections ‘From March, the Month of Winds’, recently published in amberflora, are just so much beautiful poem dust. I’m already seduced by the fact that some of the sequence is missing, that these are extracts of something longer, as though only so much could crystallise here, now, on my webpage:
look out of the wage, window, a long track south, strange like a pillow of time hit you in the mouth once.
Dawson’s work is often concerned with the material politics of the way we live our lives together. This is a general statement to make, so I want to get back to granules. As though in a windowless room I ‘look out of the wage’, implored by the poem to let the abstract value of work (the wage) refract what I see, where I am in this world. The window can only come after. This ‘pillow of time’, with its dust coming off in the memory of a bright thwack delivered ‘once’ and long before I was here, looking at ‘a long track south’ that is unspecific, ‘strange’ as the moment I was hit by the pillow. I think of iconic window moments: this screen I’m staring at, its many-open windows collecting distraction. Last weekend’s skylight looking out upon a silver loch. Kate Chopin’s protagonist in ‘The Story of an Hour’ (1894), ‘drinking in a very elixir of life through that open window’. Why ‘a’ elixir and not ‘the’; why ‘a pillow of time’ and not ‘the pillow of time’? Something is going on in these articles: rather than offering some definitive symbol, accessible and clear to all, what Dawson and Chopin suggest is more like a passing thing, maybe only tangible in that moment of reading the poem, looking through the window. A little agency or imagination is required to grasp it.
> The poems here come in nine lines, divided into triplets of three-line stanzas. Nine is obviously a fashionable number in poetry right now, what with the new ‘niner’ being adopted by Mendoza, Nat Raha, Peter Manson and others. Something about a triplet implies loop: trilogy, slip. But also nine is a perfect way to trisect, and with nine in multiples I think of a gesture towards infinity, the unfinished 99.999999999+%. Wikipedia tells me that ‘The number 9 is revered in Hinduism and considered a complete, perfected and divine number because it represents the end of a cycle in the decimal system’. Something about Dawson’s poetry here references this infinity feeling, as much as it looks for shape, form, entanglement – structures organic or otherwise (‘fortress’, ‘dress’, ‘habit’, ‘mycelium’, ‘a coat’). In Lisa Robertson’s essay ‘Nothing’, highly specific garments become ‘necessary for reading’:
Because nothing was thick enough, nothing was light enough, nothing was supple enough, nothing was orbiting enough, nothing was scathing enough, nothing was touching enough, nothing tried enough, nothing was thinking enough, nothing laughed enough, nothing kissed enough
This ‘nothing’ becomes a liminal quality of being itself, an embodied value, a reified substance in the force of the lines. It is something we put on, or fail to. It is something like the measure of a surface, interface: a way of seeing the text itself as a garment. And here, it is something I might shrug off or lend you. Something about the image of the garment implies that capability of the fold, the move between inside and outside, that which can be turned or concealed, exposed. Is ‘nothing’ itself, in all repetition, alteration and refusal, protection or shelter against what I have called the ‘infinity feeling’? Is it how we layer ourselves into existence? – ‘invent a dream in which you appear as a poet’ (Dawson). From this nothing, we have to move into what will touch us, garb us, intensify the present. From this nothing, we can only add words. And is that also the dust, coming and coming?
> In ‘From March, the Month of Winds’, there is something literally ‘[redacted]’ – a glimpse of nudity, a suture – but also an excess we might express as a gesture, the only italicised line which implies a voice or citation: ‘touch reminds love to come out and through’. In Tactile Poetics: Touch and Contemporary Writing (2015), Sarah Jackson asks, ‘If a text can function as a skin, how might writing work to touch us?’. I’d wager that it’s something of a dusting, a tremble, a stir. Intimacy is in the texture of how we voice it. A vulnerability, opening to the elements.
> This is a poem about communication, touch and inscription. ‘I can’t stop moving on’, the speaker admits, like a piece of dust or pollen, ‘but getting / stuck by this’. There is tension between movement and stasis, a question of agency in what propels us, holds us, reproduces. ‘I hold the unscored sand of you’: the erotics of the text are (un)contained in these moments of impossible containment, the sand-slipped implication of trying to grasp time as a body, a substance, a granular heap. What if the poem itself just was that heap, each stanza a pile of sand or cluster of dust? And then is. How do we get to a certain arrangement of words? There’s something about Dawson’s poetics that bears that effortless air of the loosely arranged and yet every word or turn is precious, held. We move silkily into the adjunct, the barbed: ‘a new caress on the worn-out seat / that everyone forgot to kiss on the way to the fuck’. I think of the way we make wayward eye-contact in public spaces, the way dust rises and settles when someone takes or vacates their seat on a train. A carriage of warmth. And in a way, there is something train-like about these poems, their drifting between scenes like two-minute daydreams, their enjambed sense of onward movement, a falling forward. The way they hold you in motion.
Where we end up, however, is hardly clear: the calendar’s allfucked 22 degree winterday, you are not supposed to be wearing what are they called – flip-flops. then thick socks. then frost
‘Allfucked’ is a convenient portmanteau for the times, of course, but where do we stay still, how do we live in it? Where do we want to arrive – and is merely to think this a utopian gesture? This ‘it’ of a ‘22 degree winterday’: I’m reminded of Bernadette Mayer’s famous Midwinter Day (1982): an epic, intricate, sprawling poem written over the course of a single day, the winter solstice. This idea that poetry cares, it asks you to kiss more, spend time, hover upon a fresh surface. Open the window to let the dust swirl awhile. The day is not supposed to be wearing this thickness, and neither are you. Things are out of joint: the garments (‘flip-flops’, ‘thick socks’) give way to a change in climate, from warmth to frost. Frost cannot so easily be blown by the wind. Poetry’s long history with frost, that subtle rime that paints the solitary night (Coleridge’s ‘Frost at Midnight’ of course) is evoked here in the end as a bathos, a lapse in mood. The absurdity or incongruity of the footwear carries through to anthropocenic ‘nature’ itself, emphasised with childlike assonance, flops/socks/frost. There is something lisping on the tongue, something still to be said. And how long before it melts?
Text: Maria Sledmere