Reading over the rough draft of my last posting, a poem about space, a poem about the telling, re/telling of that perceived space I am brought back to two of my favorite ethnographies; James Agee's Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (and the loss of my second edition copy of this book last semester I count as more tragic than my car accident and loss of vehicle) and Kathleen Stewart's A Space on the Side of the Road. Stewart's treatment of anthropology, the practice of ethnography, modern ethnography becomes an extension of the storytelling practiced by Agee's voice and his partner Walker Evan's breath taking photography (much less the ethnographic documentary photography of Dorthea Lange). These poems I've laid on your door step over the past two thirds of a year, these Muskrat ramblings, are my fictionalized ethnography of a world I have existed within as a author, as a poet, as a human being, as a bartender, as an old trainrider exploring the idealized notions i've created of a settled life and balancing that with wanderlust and genuine intrigue of my fellow creatures i've encountered along the way
A friend of mine, a poet, a wayward soul, in her struggle to let go of her poems and let other people enjoy them, expressed her frustration that she was afraid that her words, her stories would be misinterpreted, misread. To me this is the ultimate release of the story, the oral tradition, the mesh of poetry and life and lyric. What I write, what I read from my own poems changes from day to day, from reading to reading. It becomes the act, the performance, the as Goffman would interpret, presentation of that piece as self in everyday life. This idealized presentation or performance of self, of art then in communicated as a sign/signifier relationship to my audience, my friends, and myself, from the inception of the idea of the poem, the perceived reaction/interpretation I want to convey and eventually the actual release and maintenance, and communication/ beautiful miscommunication of the poem, the release of authorial control. (Goffman, 1959:51) Its performance, its subjection of itself onto the public, the Public sphere, (to paraphrase Pete Seeger) the body politic, is the essential release of the poem into performance and ergo the world.
Kathleen Stewart expresses that in essence, contemporary anthropology and more essentially ethnography as an exploration of culture, an exploration of ourselves and our neighbors becomes
"...a cultural critique that is not so much a decoding as an engagement, not so much a hermeneutical interpretation as a crafted mimesis or re/presentation in the same way that an "interpretation" of a piece of music or a play is not an exegesis but a performance. It is a reading akin to what Barthes called the blissful reading of a text..." (Barthes, 1975:22) (Stewart, 1996:24) This beautiful analogy of the social sciences as a performance, a means of understanding and in essence re/telling those around us about the things we experience in everyday life. We, as writers are using narrative to translate and release into the wild our versions of the world around us. Whether or not we a re successful doesn't matter. Poetry and the words and stories we transcribe push into social scientists. Whether we realize it or not we become the voice through which culture is transmitted, every culture, every utterance becomes narrative. As Kathleen Stewart notes "narrative is first and foremost a mediating form though which 'meaning' must pass. Stories, in other words, are productive" (Stewart, 1996: 29). We live, we exist with art, with story, within narrative, a space in which we create an idealize version every morning when we open our eyes, percolate our first cup of coffee on the stovetop. Watching the rings on the stove turning red, we create folk music in our imagination to our existences. We create these stories, I create Muskrat as a means of translating the world through my eyes. A fictionalized, idealized sad bastard country song, a Lightnin' Hopkins blues song in narrative about a fictionalized me.
I cannot help but insert Muskrat into Stewart's discussion of storytelling and ethnography. To me, this blog and the on going ten year experiment of Muskrat as a means for me to explore my mental states, the world around me and the process of becoming comfortable in my own skin and the stage in which i, and Muskrat exist, is all about the performance. Thus the release of Muskrat stories, recollections and poems into the body politic, no matter how limited is therapy, is social science, is ethnography, is my performance, my interpretation of the play in which whatever role I've been assigned in constantly changing. I cannot help but inert myself, Muskrat then into Stewart's analysis of a conversation of a dialogue, an ordinary conversation. "Dialogic performance and dialogic exchanges within the story stretch the meaning of narrated events into the complex sociality of narrativity itself... he constructs his story, even at the very moment of his experience of its events, for a range of implied audiences... a world, then, in which events are always mediated by story... that things happen that places mark the space in lingering impacts and unseen forces that the world speaks to people who find themselves caught in it....(Stewart,1996: 32) It is my every action that creates story, Muskrat, poetry and this blog in extension are merely interpretations of the world around me. My favorite poetic exercise is the sitting poems, a variation of Wendell Berry's concept of Window Poems, in which I sit, and explore what I see, feel, and hear in my immediate vicinity and let my mind wander out, and bring it back in. Staring at the glass of water on the red round table, the water shifting clock like in motion to the movement of my arms as they type, the black metallic chairs in the outskirts of my mental and visual range, all of this an exercise in the perception, the organization of narrative, in essence practice for simple character studies. Which is in the end what Muskrat and my Muskrat poems have become, a character study.
thanks for putitng up with this rambling nonsense... I was fun to write. I don't know if i want to read it yet now that its finished in extreme rough draft form... Mistly i was excited to share Kathleen Stewarts prose with you all.
God speed Lil animals... solidarity forever, ride free, live free, dig in the dirt... if i don't find love or someone to touch me, touch my face, I just may lose it and commit my life to Muskrat and strange rambling essays like this that go no where... So don't go down my path... love each other... be good to each other... and always work hard.