Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Mini Portraits of Writers Week 3

Week Three: David Abel

Reads from his work in Portland, February 2009







David Abel was born in Salt Lake City in 1956. He attended school in Utah, South Florida, Eastern California, and the Mid-Hudson and Rio Grande Valleys. After tenures in New York City and Albuquerque (where he established the Bridge Bookshop, and Passages Bookshop & Gallery, respectively), he relocated to Portland in 1997.

His poems and texts have been published as artists' books and objects -- including Rose, Selected Durations, Threnos (Salient Seedling Press/Katherine Kuehn), and Let Us Repair and While You Were In (Disposable Books/Leo & Anna Daedalus). He has also been published in several chapbooks, including Black Valentine (Chax), Twenty- (Crane's Bill), and fresh off the press Commonly (airfoil). He makes his living as a freelance editor and bookdealer, and
often collaborates on intermedia and performance projects in Portland. There he is also a founding organizer of the Spare Room reading series.

1. Tell about a book that you have loved for at least a decade.

I’ve cherished Stanley Lombardo’s slender volume Parmenides and Empedocles: The Fragments in Verse Translation since at least the late 1980s. It’s one of a handful of books to which I’ve been able to turn for genuine consolation in times of despair — most notably, after the death of my father in 1989. I’m not certain when or how I first encountered it, but I was already familiar with it by the time I stocked it at The Bridge, my little bookshop in the East Village, in 1987–89.

Over the years, I’ve often given the book as a gift. About a decade ago, I gave a copy to a composer friend in New York, John Allen, who was fighting AIDS. Equally taken with the book, John wrote to Stanley Lombardo for permission to set his version of fragment 84 of the Empedocles. John spoke to me several times of his excitement about the project; sadly, he didn’t live to complete the music.

This past December, Judith Roitman and Stanley (who are married, and teach mathematics and classics, respectively, at Kansas University) read in the Spare Room series here in Portland. I took the opportunity of my introduction to Stan’s reading (in which he performed excerpts from his own versions of his “favorite epics”: the Iliad, the Odyssey, the Aeneid, the Inferno) to recite two fragments of the Empedocles: number 8, which I take as a sort of anthem, and number 84. So, with Stan’s permission, I’d like to share them here.

Happily, the book is still available, from SPD (http://www.spdbooks.org/) and elsewhere.



8

And I will tell you this:
There is no self-nature
in anything mortal
nor any finality
in death’s deconstruction
There is only
the merging, change
and exchange
of things that have merged
and their self-nature is only
a matter of words.





84

A man about to go out on a stormy night
prepares a lantern, a bright fire enclosed
in linen panels to keep out the wind:
the panels disperse every gust of air
but transmit the fire because it’s so much finer
and the beams of light dance and shine on the threshold.
In just this way the primordial fire,
enclosed in gauzy tissue, was lodged in the pupil,
and perforations in the tissue, divinely minute,
blocked the well of water that surrounded the pupil
but transmitted the fire because it was so much finer.

from Parmenides and Empedocles: The Fragments in Verse Translation, Stanley Lombardo (San Francisco: Grey Fox Press, 1982)


6. What questions would you like to explore through your work at the moment? Talk about a work in process, or your most recent work.


For the past four and a half years, I’ve been working on a long, open-ended series provisionally titled Sweep. Encouraged by examples such as Beverly Dahlen’s A Reading and Charles Stein’s theforestforthetrees, I set out to explore an arena in which the whole of a work could not be viewed (nor even proposed, perhaps) from any single vantage.

I’ve found that the theoretical priority of “process” over “product,” so often affirmed as a platitude, becomes experiential as I’m reading certain texts, and I’m attempting a commitment to that experience as I proceed with Sweep.

Since beginning the work (on the winter solstice, 2004), everything that I write that doesn’t in some sense insist on its autonomy (or on a connection to another project) ends up in the draft of Sweep. So far, it is a motley collection of poems and fragments, aphorisms, and quotations, following the principle of collage both within and between entries. Perhaps, in the end, it will simply be a commonplace book — I’m incapable of keeping a diary, and this seems to have become my substitute. By numbering the days, I give a nod to the importance of the gaps.



from Sweep:

976

3:50 a.m.

The eclipse
is obscured.



Impossible to know
the extent of the hidden —

no amount of disclosure
diminishes it



Near here she lived
Near here she died



I first came to this rim
twenty-five years ago

Will I come again
twenty-five years from now?



5:34 a.m.

Watching totality
on a dirt road near Rio Puerco,

two shooting stars:
one for Mary, one for Gene

Back at the house the edge of the moon
beginning to catch light again

and a third shooting — no,
falling

star
for me


_________



What follows is the text of the Eclipse read in the video (all of the poems in the series have that generic title). The source is a sentence from the first chapter of Elaine Scarry’s The Body in Pain.


Although this book has only a single subject,
this book has only a single subject, that
book has only a single subject, that subject
has only a single subject, that subject can
only a single subject, that subject can itself
a single subject, that subject can itself be
single subject, that subject can itself be divided
subject, that subject can itself be divided into
that subject can itself be divided into three
subject can itself be divided into three different
can itself be divided into three different subjects:
itself be divided into three different subjects: first,
be divided into three different subjects: first, the
divided into three different subjects: first, the difficulty
into three different subjects: first, the difficulty of
three different subjects: first, the difficulty of expressing
different subjects: first, the difficulty of expressing physical
subjects: first, the difficulty of expressing physical pain;
first, the difficulty of expressing physical pain; second,
the difficulty of expressing physical pain; second, the
difficulty of expressing physical pain; second, the political
of expressing physical pain; second, the political and
expressing physical pain; second, the political and perceptual
physical pain; second, the political and perceptual complications
pain; second, the political and perceptual complications that
second, the political and perceptual complications that arise
the political and perceptual complications that arise as
political and perceptual complications that arise as a
and perceptual complications that arise as a result
perceptual complications that arise as a result of
complications that arise as a result of that
that arise as a result of that difficulty;
arise as a result of that difficulty; and
as a result of that difficulty; and third,
a result of that difficulty; and third, the
result of that difficulty; and third, the nature
of that difficulty; and third, the nature of
that difficulty; and third, the nature of both
difficulty; and third, the nature of both material
and third, the nature of both material and
third, the nature of both material and verbal
the nature of both material and verbal expressibility
nature of both material and verbal expressibility or,
of both material and verbal expressibility or, more
both material and verbal expressibility or, more simply,
material and verbal expressibility or, more simply, the
and verbal expressibility or, more simply, the nature
verbal expressibility or, more simply, the nature of
expressibility or, more simply, the nature of human
or, more simply, the nature of human creation.

No comments: