Friday, April 29, 2011

My Poem "From a Deposition" in The Lineup #4

As noted previously in this space, I have a poem in The Lineup #4: Poems on Crime, edited by Gerald So and Reed Farrel Coleman.

Gerald has graciously asked contributors to write a post to which he would link from his own blog, and today is my day.

First, I want to publicly apologize for being a few hours late on this. My stats counter indicates people have been checking.

Second, I should note that my first choice of topic was actually the great gut-punch of a poem in this year's issue by Charles Harper Webb (a poem to which I was first introduced by my friend and colleague Henry Perez). Other contributors got there first, though, so my fallback is to discuss my own poem in the issue, entitled "From a Deposition." The discussion will be a lot more polysyllabic and cerebral than the poem itself, which is plain-spoken and visceral, so please don't let my prose scare you aware from my poetry.

The poem's title may need a little explanation. From time to time I find myself writing poems that take the form of excerpts from non-existent larger works. This is by no means original with me. While I am not enough of a scholar to say where that technique originated, I learned it from reading the stories of the great Argentine writer José Luis Borges. If you're up for a reading challenge, you may also want to check out emerging American writer Jenny Boully's book-length essay The Body, which consists entirely of footnotes to an absent text. This technique invokes the possibility of a wider reality while allowing the writer to address only the most important points and avoid details that would bore the reader.

Using this framework, the poem is a first-person account of rape, drawn from imagination rather than experience. The available information on rape victims' experience suggests that describing the crime and acknowledging its full (and horrendous) reality in its immediate aftermath proves difficult if not impossible, and the poem attempts to capture that ambivalence about discussing the subject with strangers in the legal and justice system. One may reasonably wonder if rapists depend on this difficulty in order to elude arrest and prosecution for their already underreported crime.

Some might argue that the poem (and the poet) are guilty of appropriation, or taking up a topic one is not entitled to address. This issue most often comes up when a writer addresses the experience of an ethnic or racial group other than his or her own, but in this case means writing about a victimization I have not experienced.

There are some people who won't be satisfied by any attempt to justify appropriation, but here's mine, which people can take or leave as they see fit: this poem, like many poems, came about as an experience of empathy, and it is the only poem I have ever written or am likely to write about rape. It is not part of a career-building strategy or a literary hoax. Moreover, like the editors and the other contributors, I am not doing this for the money, only the possibilities of art.

This long post at its end, I invite you to read my short poem "From a Deposition" and work by approximately two dozen writers, some very well known, in The Lineup #4.

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