8TH ANNUAL NAPOMO 30/30/30 :: DAY 10:: SARA DENIZ AKANT on DAISY ATTERBURY
Welcome to the OS’s 8th Annual NAPOMO 30/30/30 Series! This year, contributors far and wide were gathered by four incredible curators, who are also our 2019 Chapbook Poets — to learn more about this year’s amazing curators and their forthcoming chapbooks, please click here! You can also navigate to the series archive, of over 200 entries, here! This week’s curator is Knar Gavin, author of the forthcoming chapbook, Vela..
What are healthy forms of intimacy?
That’s what Daisy Atterbury asked, cross-legged on my living room floor. I knew we had arrived then; that we were not just speaking to each other, but had been re-shifted into another, more dangerous, more productive collaborative zone.
Is it a meeting?
It was the start of the semester, and yes, we had staged a meeting. The goal was to set intentions for the months ahead. Asking questions was our chosen mode and method (s/o to Chy Sprauve). After nearly 15 years of higher ed, I was finally learning to reframe my world into statements of inquiry: in my writing, in my teaching, in my living. It was Daisy was pulling me in.
How do I relate to the social environment that is produced by Daisy’s question, by her poems? What ecologies do these words produce, worlds I’ve been drawn to then into, over the last four years? Even now I find I am wanting to echo her voice in the same moment that I am wanting to write about the particular landscape she’s been sounding. I am wanting to write about her arresting (now colossal) manuscript, Relief Route / The Karman Line, which I’ve been reading in stages. All italics are in Daisy’s words: either from or around that script.
How appropriate would it be, to not only continuously echo Daisy, but also begin with the writing she’s been doing about others. As material for this piece, D naturally sent me a current version of her manuscript. But she also sent an essay she’s been composing about artist and friend Mateo Galindo’s exciting new work: a virtual reality game titled “Encadenar,” ambiguously set in the future, somewhere near the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), in Carlsbad, New Mexico. Galindo’s game is haunting and gorgeous, perhaps the most moving VR art I’ve seen to date. I am wanting to mention that I know Galindo and his work from our engagement at New Mexico Poetics, an intensive program for writers and artists that Daisy has been running, expanding, and developing along with poet and scholar Genji Amino, since 2010. I am wanting to note how my participation in NMP offered me valued context for the site of both of their work, how it pulled me in. In her forthcoming essay, Daisy describes Mat’s piece:
The work invites users to participate in a semi-guided, semi-autonomous walk through a constructed landscape, a world ordered by voice-over narration which takes the form of a prose poem. Occasionally, the poem speaks to you… Occasionally, the poem speaks to itself. Occasionally the poem speaks for its world, or speaks (constructs) it…
How fitting, I think, that D writes about the poem in the art, since doing so begs a comparison already so easy to see. The narrating voice in Relief Route / The Karman Line is perfectly multiple. On the top of the page it may speak to you, while at the bottom you find that its speaking to itself. In one section it speaks for its world in layers of echo and anger, while in the next it rebuilds that space and moves casually along. I’m already coiled into by (Galindo’s) virtual world, Daisy writes. Where what we touch or don’t touch is what what I want to discuss. Then:
Is there actually space between touching and not?
How useful, these questions of space, of the coil; of touch. How convenient that this delicate language of action and intimacy guides me straight to the probing questions that her manuscript, in turn, enacts:
What is the relationship between colonial history, violence, and sex?
What are your edges?
What is the relationship between stepping off an airplane, and the conversations we still don’t know how to have about race?
What are poetry’s social forms?
Can writing be used to (un)settle — to deregulate space?
Is it a meeting?
Do you live in fantasy?
Is it a meeting?
Can you make it sexy?
Is it a meeting?
How many times can I say the word sex?
D asks these questions, sometimes explicitly, sometimes in the mode of air-or-sunport voice-over, of silent (Twitter) stalker, of a probing, omnipresent intellect vibrating just below the surface of language and fact. The urge towards questions — the pedagogy and various uses of them — seems to operate into a new science in the book, developing a new social math.
A new social math. That’s one way to describe what I’ve personally been absorbing, learning, and re-embodying in Daisy’s work. And it’s not just the writing itself; it’s the space that her writing heaves into, imagines, produces. It’s the living rooms we meet in, the readings we do of each other, the residencies and the GoogleDocs, the uncurated texts. All these sites of communication and collaboration; all these situations of touch.
And it’s no coincidence, the language that orbs my discussion of Daisy’s ms. Vibrate. Urge. Heaving. Touch. I am wanting. Probing. Stalk. The erotics of the moment that we sit, now in a different living room, and joke about repression. How we are conditioned to act as if sex weren’t seeping out our pores, escaping under the closed doors of our bedrooms, classrooms, offices. As if sexual desire wasn’t coursing through each moment of everyday cultural violence, cross-hatched into each question that must be posed towards (un)settlement.
My great-aunts were Cowgirls. I learned how to ride a
horse. A horse stepped on my sister’s foot. Desire to
cross a threshold. Restraint not too. We all cross. If you could
please work on your boundaries
Given these interconnected subjects and histories — it’s killing mesh — let me describe the specific, physical boundaries dictated by this ms. On a fundamental level, the book traces and retraces questions of power, language, and the body over two concrete forms of socially constructed space: New Mexico State Road 599 — a highway that weaves through Santa Fe County, also known as the Relief Route — and the Karman Line, which we are told is the altitude at which the earth ends and space begins. Below the Karman Line space is national, territorial. It belongs to each country. Above the Karman Line, space is considered free space. Much as in Galindo’s “Encadenar,” we get most of this information in voice-over:
Because of the difficulty in determining the exact
point at which the boundary occurs, there is still no
legal definition of the demarcation between a
country’s air space and outer space
It is from these two intersecting points on the re-scaled colonial map, that Daisy’s long meditation on this widening concept of space begins.
Just when we thought we were being over-soaked in text-book tones, another voice chimes in:
I have my own lunch hour — OR:
I was in a middle seat enveloped by the warm outer
thighs of other women
And we know these embodied personal moments are just as key, just as guide. That these thighs mark the writing body as the social space between them, that they form and press against this type of daily occupation. I understand colonialism to be a structure — governing life relations — that we all experience deeply personally. Then flash to someone in the distance, swimming in their swimming pool. History teaches us a narrative of occupancy while eschewing narratives of occupation. So somewhere between Truth or Consequences New Mexico, and the stitchings of New York — somewhere between those thighs on a plane and the fraught pockets of social media — narratives of occupation are being written and rewritten.
Show me an imaginary you’ve never tasted — OR :
You can fantasize about an expanse
And yet the same voice that writes a poem — reads the signs — knows that it also fails to document, to locate, continuously. It follows people on Insta and then slowly watches them die. It is wanting to retweet while also being cruely abandoned on Twitter. It is a self-proclaimed luddite sliding through DMs, archiving a whole document titled Fantasies of Reproductive Failure; admitting to it. It opens the Relief Route with a description of the Karman line, then leaves us at the route and flies back to the line. This voice looks in horror at the inner-mappings of an iPhone, at the slippery cartographies of a white and female self. It lives in erasure. No, it lives for it. Can you trace an imperial loophole / like dark matter? It puts two Westerns on repeat. It glitches. It asks. Then it doesn’t, or will not, write the poem. It can’t read the signs. It gets lost.
It’s this failure-as-articulated-intimacy that keeps me writing, reading, thinking, teaching, flickering in and out of personal and political touch, questioning again and again the many uses of our raced and gendered perspectives, as well as the Cartesian notion of the center-as-self.
Flash to another living room. I had just read an early version of D’s manuscript, and we’re talking on the phone. Expressing some insecurity about inserting herself into an ongoing conversation about coloniality, Daisy simultaneously chatters against that anxiety, too. I know that what really matters is who you are writing with and for and through. I was teaching Creative Nonfiction at John Jay that semester, and Misian Taylor, another poet and my student at that time, had composed a beautiful, vulnerable piece about gentrification in Bed-Stuy, where they had recently moved. “I think it’s important for white people to write about race,” they wrote in an email, along with other critical concerns. This was also around the time that I was reading Claudia Rankine’s Racial Imaginary Institute and its accompanying book, an anthology filled with a wide range of writers “on race in the life of the mind.” As a white-passing poet from educational systems that infuse and reinfuse whiteness as a given, I’m personally still working to build a language to discuss race and coloniality, and I’m still coming up short. Along with others, Daisy has not only offered me some of that language; she’s also shown me what it means to admit to these failures, and then still try to get there.
So D writes with and to and through and for. Space begins. And her citational practice appropriately blurs whatever Karman line lies between creative, critical, and social gesture. Over the course of the manuscript, she invokes, quarrels, and collaborates with an assortment of poets, and scholars, filmmakers and artists, including but not limited to: Lauren Berlant, Myung Mi Kim, Francesco Petrarch. Anne Boyer, C.S. Lewis, Herve Guibert. Italo Calvino, Simon Ortiz, Meena Alexander, Hannah Arendt. Ludwig Wittgenstein, Traci Brynne Voyles, Lucy Lippard. Susan Sherman, Carolee Schneemann, Judy Pasternak, Wayne Koestenbaum. Each appears once or more than once, scattered or woven among friends, partners, exes, others.
you helped me and healed me and shared with me
in close proximity and from your own distant
spaces with your own intelligences you were there
with me when I suffered and you knew
While re-reading recently, I quickly highlighted this passage and turned the page. I was just starting to metabolize forms of abuse in a past relationship, and here was something so raw, so intimate, so visceral. I couldn’t linger. Later, I flipped back and took a pic, which I sent to D. “Omg,” I wrote. “Like I’m gonna cry?” This type of touch is what still occupies my mind in echo, in conversation, and in coil. It’s lonely above the surface of the earth / and cold. I know, I say. I know. I got myself into this and I think no one will come. Who are you writing with and for and through and from?
Daisy, for one. This past summer, while I was hunkering down in Istanbul, trying and failing to write about my own relationship to empire, we both had pieces come out in the brilliant bilingual Arabic/English journal Makhzin, edited by Mirene Arsanios, Iman Mersal, and Ghalya Saadawi,
which D had contributed to and told me about. My piece was titled “American Girl,” and performatively charted an alternative self-origin story; a sort of perverse fantasy. Daisy’s piece was called “Repulsion,” working ekphrastic after the Polanski film, and it documented what seem a totally different girl-fantasy. As soon as I read it, I found myself writing into through or for. I was wanting to hop from my own violent myths and landscapes, to hers. I had no choice, really. I felt called for, coiled into. Coiled. Later, re-reading Relief Route, I heard D’s deep-echo of this sentiment ring out:
I almost left but ran into someone
I want writing to be like that
My father has always told me that to want is a specifically American cry, an individualist American dream. I believe it. As a first-generation kid from all sorts of privilege, I feel those complexities, I really do. Still, reading Daisy has made me realize that I am that thing, at least in part. I too am wanting. I want. Who knew?
I want we return to that space and to name it. Inner, outer begins. I want we escape and don’t escape our questions, altering. I want a conversational practice: that sudden running-into D articulates; enacts. How she opens this voice, our shared environment. Up. I think it’s really about sex, Daisy tells me from her living room floor.
I want writing to be like that.
- Atterbuy, Daisy. Relief Route / The Karman Line. 2019.
- Atterbury, Daisy. “Repulsion.” Makhzin. Issue 3: Dictationship, 2018.
- Atterbury, Daisy. “ ‘The Jewel of the North’: Mateo Galindo’s ‘Encadenar’ in Space.” Forthcoming in Post 45, 2019.
- Galindo. Mateo. “Encadenar.” Exhibited at Hunter College, 2018.
- Loffreda, Beth and Claudia Rankine. The Racial Imaginary: Writers on Race in the Life of the Mind. Fence Books, 2015.
- Taylor, Misian. Email correspondence, 2018.
Sara Deniz Akant is a Turkish-American educator, poet and performer. She is the author of Babette, selected by Maggie Nelson for Rescue Press, as well as Parades and Latronic Strag. She researches 20th c. poetics at the CUNY Grad Center, teaches writing at Hunter College, and runs the GC Poetics Group with friends.