Wednesday, March 24, 2010

"Not even above using a better period" : Nat Otting on the first week of NOÖ Weekly

NOÖ Weekly is the new bi-weekly or weekly arm of NOÖ Journal, allowing us to publish more great writing all the time, and it's guest-edited by a different person each week. We couldn't have picked a better inaugural guest editor than the erstwhile Nathaniel Otting, Minutes Books publisher, HTMLGIANT contributor, a distinguished founder of the Robert Walser Society of Western Massachusetts, and a supporter of literature whose enthusiasm and sweetness seems magic enough that I often believe he was born on a submarine made of buttermilk. Oh, and he's a pretty diabolical poet his own self. We're honored to have him talk a little bit about his choices for the first NOÖ Weekly.

You toss something in Italy that lands at my feet. I pick it up. You read something funny on the internet, like "Terrible pass, great catch, terrible shot" (Seth Landman quoting Lewis Freedman), and then you read Guy Pettit's poems and think how perfect that the spot on the internet where you go to do so is called catch catch throw throw. You go, and lo:


I am standing next to the solid gold tube. 
When I wait for it to speak a religion hurries in,
like a recycled screen, I call the Capitol. 
I pose indirectly for a stranger 
until I’ve discredited every inch of my body.
The Capitol is not your head. It tells your head
that you have none until it’s gone. 
I see the figments of a careless toss.
You toss something in Italy 
that lands at my feet. I pick it up.

From Italy (great catch: your toss is "in Italy", "my feet" could be anywhere), you cross the Brenner Pass into Austria where you read Pettit's "Even If It Lasts For Hours" and "Archive Your Mistakes" to Ilse Aichinger, the nigh-on-90-year-old-master (Bernhard's elder, an Austrian Beckett, Kafka's etc.), whose "Bad Words" begins:

I now no longer use better words. The rain which pounds against the windows. Previously something completely different would have occurred to me. That’s over now. The rain which pounds against the windows. That’s sufficient. By the way I just had another expression on the tip of my tongue, it wasn’t only better, it was more precise, but I forgot it, while the rain was pounding against the windows or was doing what I was about to forget. 

(translated by Uljana Wolf & Christian Hawkey in the latest Poetry Project Newsletter)

After reading Aichinger's "Salvage" (from Bad Words), you won't feel bad about leaving better words to Dakotah Burns, whose Austria ("Also since I returned from Austria I've been back to wanting to do all kinds of stupid things in the woods.") is neither Aichinger's nor Bernhard's. Watch him throw around gait: "my gait moves from marvelous to monstrous in an instant" or "my gait’s mistakes are excused as a tantrum of imperial feeling" or "my gait consented to a period of more formal instruction." Burns--read his story "NBA Fantasy" and you'll see--is not even above using a better period, a period of more. As he once put it, on the internet:

What about two periods,
at the end of a sentence,
instead of one. Two periods.

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