Thursday, January 27, 2011

Introduction for Norma Cole (SEGUE)

There is a force and breadth to Bay-area based poet Norma Cole’s work that it is the daunting task of an introducer to address in a short amount of space. She has many books including—among my favorites—Moira, Contrafact, Spinoza in her Youth, and Scout. She is also the author of a selected poems published by City Lights in 2009, which spans her career from 1988-2008, Where Shadows Will.

Reading Cole’s To Be at Music this past week, a book ostensibly of her criticism, it strikes me that to call this work criticism does it an injustice, if not some violence. The texts collected in this book are rare in their ability to seamlessly move among poetic utterance and critical insights, supported by a tissue of quotations as well as an extensive bibliography. I love this quality of the work, which I sense many of us would emulate if we could pull it off. One enters any given text in the middle of the action, in a veritable whirlwind of ideas, propositions, perceptions, much as one enters one of Cole’s poems. But just as quickly there is something that anchors one within the whirlwind, not least of which are Cole’s senses of literary history, her ear as a translator who begins many of her readings through polylingual cross reference, and a sense of love and appreciation that is consistently directed at her subjects, who more often than not consist of her friends, mentors, and writers to whom she has apprenticed herself.

Something I have long felt, and acknowledged, is that the poet chooses to critique or simply write in critical prose about subjects which are near to their own problems as poets. This seems so obvious, but is it? I often have this sense reading the quotations woven throughout Cole’s To Be At Music. And I often wonder what is quotation, and what is Cole engaged in a kind of Midrashic dialogue with her sources. The effect of this citational confusion reaches a sublime pitch in Cole’s essay for Robin Blaser, “A Minimum of Matter,” a poet whose commitments to translation, critical theory, and revolutions in the public sphere mirror Cole’s own....

No comments: