A Large Guilt

I have a large guilt. If you put your fingers out and cock them like a gun at me you can hear all of that rubber in my head going off. Yes I grow events to laws and laws to anxiousness and let that anxiousness fester into something else. Guilt is the end product. When it all feels too easy to me I wonder where I went wrong and how it is going to bite me in the end. If it all goes hard and maybe I don’t make it all the way that’s when I realize I had no business going after it in the first place, no business trying to make something out of this ruined corpse I pilot.

When I have told these anxieties some have pointed me in the way of the bible or told me to loosen up and take drugs. Some have said I don’t get angry enough or that my anger is of the wrong character: multi-directional, unchanelled, general–the word I’m looking for is “blast”: mushrooming outwards, and I’m always in the centre of that radius and bound to heap some upon myself regardless of who or what I’m angry at. Whereas my anger should be a red beam narrowly focussed, fired at someone who really deserves it. My parents have said that as soon as I build something up I need to tear it down again, like that plant I had growing well, that tipped over due to my carelessness, or the dog’s I guess; or the job I quit; or the dropping-out, or the drugs, or the bible; or the meetings I never went to; or the ceremony I never officiated; or the dog I never walked, or the apologies I always promised them but never made, or the moonlit night I couldn’t sleep and went out of bed and wandered around outside for a while in the darkness which caused the dog to explode up in the night because he didn’t recognize I was gone till I was keying my way in and I how I woke up everyone and made them grab each other out of fear and crawl their way into the foyer brandishing just to see me slipping out of my shoes and trying to keep the dog down and hushing him.

Do any of you live in Toronto?

Even if you found this blog because you googled “hydrogen bomb”, “slimer”, or “Jann Arden”, and you’re confused, disgusted, and on your way out–if you live in Toronto you should come to the launch of the 2010 Hart House Review tonight. It will be fully catered. There will be a bar, though it will be a cash bar. Come in, pick up a free issue, get excited, fall down on the floor, crawl backwards, get the hell out of there.

2010 Hart House Review Launch

Thursday, April 15th, 2010
Doors open at 7:30
Address & Readings 8pm

2010 Features:
Sheila Heti
Jim Johnstone
Lee Henderson
Jesse Harris

Sheila Heti
Jim Johnstone
Featured Contributors

Art Exhibition:
Jesse Harris

HART HOUSE, Library, Music and Board Room
7 Hart House Circle, 2nd floor
University of Toronto

“With my small triumphs behind me, I’ve got to write more and work more so that my triumphs are erased and turned into regularity. Rest weakens.”

But in adopting this attitude work becomes impossible, rather than the natural outcome of playing diligently over the course of several weeks.

A distraction helps. Something forceful.


I am glad I don’t have a myth that I refer to whenever I find myself like this. Something like: “Don’t worry, self: I am the thoroughbred offspring of creativity and intelligence,” or, “When as a child my mother and I visited the White House on official business, I was not intimidated.” The kind of myth that a newspaper article or reality television show would cement into vacuity.

Looking back I have filled my life with nonsense and wastefulness, and things have worked out well so far.

Land of Talk

The lead singer has athletic thighs. The crowd in front got drunk during the opening act. Someone asks her if they can have her babies.

“Eighties? You want my eighties? Why would anyone want my eighties?”

The question is explained to her.

“Babies? Sure, you can have them. Babies are a lot of work.”

She picks at her guitar.

“Do you know what you’re getting yourself into? Babies are a full time job. Really.”

She adjusts her shoulder strap.

Someone shouts a song name.

“Thankless. It’s thankless.”

The crowd whispers questions.

“Hmm? Oh, no. I’m still talking about babies. Being a mother. It’s thankless. That’s not the name of the song. We’re going to play something from the vault.”

I ran to the bus like a mouse with ears stuffed full of cotton. Head ducked but alert. I let myself be overwhelmed by confusion. Somehow I stopped the bus with my mind. And when the doors opened the driver shouted surprised at me, like I’d burned him or fell down drunk at an important function.

“No! You need to wait over there, sir.”

I can’t now, it’s embarrassing.

On the bus I read Breece D’J Pancake’s “Hollow” until the last possible moment and then I darted up to the front door because I’d forgotten we were stopping. I watched the same middle-aged woman walk from the bus to her house next to the bus stop. A girl who saw me run up to the wrong bus followed me across the road and then turned down her own street. I have seen her turn that way before.

Now my neighbourhood is full of spies.

I wanted to turn to the girl while we waited in the station and explain the situation to her but I couldn’t see her too well on account of the fact that I need glasses. She could have been so many people. In all honesty, I thought she was somebody else.

Every Poet is Alienated

The Russian poet Marina Tsvetaeva was an outsider everywhere. She was forced to emigrate to Europe after the Soviet revolution because her husband had served in the White Army, but she never quite fit in with the rest of the crowd of Russian émigrés in Paris. Her poetry was considered too radical in form by those in emigration in Paris, and too conservative in content by the poets of post-revolutionary Russia.

Making matters worse, while in emigration Tsvetaeva’s husband began to involve himself with a Soviet front organization. Because of his alleged involvement in a string of murders performed by the group, the “Union of Friends of the Soviet Fatherland”, her husband was eventually forced to return to Russia, abandoning Tsvetaeva in Paris and further alienating her within the émigré community, who were not eager to associate with those sympathetic to the Soviet government. It did not help matters that Tsvetaeva’s family was desperately poor in France, and at times they survived entirely on four to five francs a day in income from bonnets made by Tsvetaeva’s daughter.

Given her biography, it’s probably not surprising that for Tsvetaeva art and isolation were intimately related. “Love”, as she describes it in her semi-fictional essay “My Pushkin”, has an inherent “absent” quality. It is primarily concerned with objects that are not there, and that the primary viewer is isolated from. According to Tsvetaeva, a cat cared for for three days and never seen again is love, a drummer boy that goes off to war and does not come back is love, and her naphthalened Paris dolls packed back in a trunk and put away are love. The love comes from yearning for the lost object.

Tsvetaeva claims her conception of love is common to all poets: when as a little girl she is asked by her mother which of her dolls she likes the most, Tsvetaeva answers that her favourite is “the one from Paris,” because of “her passionate eyes.” But the feeling of passion is not in the doll itself, instead it is something that the young Tsvetaeva has ascribed to it when she looks in the doll’s eyes, thinking of the word “Paris,” and of the mysterious naphthalene, and by “the inaccessibility to me [Tsvetaeva] of the doll.” The passion is constructed by the poet’s imagination, and because of the absence or inaccessibility of the object, reality cannot interfere with that passion. “All poets,” experience this phenomenon, she explains, “and then they shoot themselves because the doll isn’t passionate!”

At the age of six Tsvetaeva watched a concert which included a scene from Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin, where the “absent” nature of love was demonstrated for her by Tatyana and Onegin. Onegin comes to speak to Tatyana while she is sitting on a bench, and instead of joining her there he makes Tatyana stand and meet him. The reluctance of Onegin to sit is evidence to Tsvetaeva that Onegin did not love Tatyana: “and only because of [this] did she love him so much, and only because of [this] did she chose him to love… because secretly she knew that he would not be able to love her.” The two of them together, even though only one feels love for the other, and only because the other does not love back, is “love”.

As Tsvetaeva explains, without absence love is diminished much like a poem is diminished by bombarding it with factual questions:

[…] every “why” demands and passes judgement on a “that’s why,” and thereby weakens the integrity of the whole process, turns the whole poem into an interval, fastening our attention on a final external purpose which a poem ought not to have. An insistent question turns poetry into a riddle and a problem, and if every poem in itself is a riddle and a problem, it is not that riddle, for which the right answer is at hand, and not that problem, to which the solution is in a textbook.

Asking too many questions about a poem decreases the power of the poem because with every question asked, an answer is provided which defines an aspect of the poem and reduces the reader’s individual imagination. It is the absence of the object that defines not only Tsvetaeva’s concept of love but also her concept of poetry. This is clearly addressed when she describes falling in love with Pushkin’s poem To The Sea. In the poem Pushkin, who has been denied his request to leave Russia, bids farewell to the “free element” of the sea. Rather than recognize this “free element” as water, Tsvetaeva the child equates it with poetry itself: “it’s verse […] but why farewell? Because, when you love you always bid farewell. It is ony [sic] then that you love, when you bid farewell”.

The poem builds an image of the sea that for the young Tsvetaeva is so transcendental it cannot hope to be matched by reality. When her mother announces that they will be going to the sea because of an illness she has, she can have no idea that in “pronouncing to the sea… she was giving a promise that she couldn’t keep.” The sea is not anything like Tsvetaeva imagines it to be. As she confesses, for the young Tsvetaeva imagining the sea, it exists on a semiotic level, beyond language, and she can name nothing concrete about it at all, because she is so young she hasn’t learned about it in school yet or from any other source–only from Pushkin’s poem. For her, the sea literally is farewell, love, poetry. The experience of actually seeing the sea for the first time proves to be so unsatisfying that Tsvetaeva declares that her sea, “the sea of my and Pushkin’s To the Sea could only be on a sheet of paper–and within.”

Tsvetaeva’s understanding of absence might help explain her unwavering loyalty to her husband, who abandoned her frequently. When he was fighting with the White army, leaving her alone in war-ravaged Moscow with their two children (one of whom, during the five years she was left there, died of starvation), Tsvetaeva wrote in her diary: “If God performs a miracle and leaves you among the living, I shall serve you like a dog.” The entire time he was away, she hadn’t known whether he was living or dead. She echoed her sentiments later when he returned to Russia amid claims that he was a Soviet agent, blind to the fact that through his actions (unknown to her until he was revealed) he had jeopardized their life together and forced her return to Soviet Russia: “And here am I, about to go–like a dog.”

But for Tsvetaeva a life of chasing after an errant husband was perhaps better than the alternative. She advises young women to be like Tatyana in “the enchanted circle of her own loneliness in love,” in order to be “a thousand times happier than that other heroine of ours [Anna Karenina], the one who from the fulfillment of all wishes had nothing left but to lie down on the rails.” Imagination can defeat isolation, but perhaps only up to a point. Her return to Russia was far from happy, because her husband was killed in a purge before she even arrived. The Soviet poets and writers she knew in Russia refused to visit her, for their own reasons, and only a few years later she hung herself.

A “9” Speaks

I am extremely formal like an equation balanced hanging on a sheet of white paper. According to the theory of the four humours my nature is phlegmatic learned from phlegmatic devices and accordingly when I drink I become as forceful as a large body of water.

Tied to a railing today a white dog on a red leash. “I am gravity I am a wave that a planet settles into,” said the dog barking while men and women (both in ragged ponytails) came up to it dressed in their yellow melancholies. I like the word “dog” better than the dog itself. I keep running my hands over things to try and determine where the word lives inside.

Give me a fine serif I can grab my hands around.