March 14, 2013

Love, An Index

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“I’m going to read… three more poems, I think. So, ration your attention accordingly,” warned Rebecca Lindenberg, author of the first book in McSweeney’s poetry series Love, an Index, Wednesday afternoon to the small audience at Buffalo Street Books. Much like the store manager’s quip that, “we were going to put out a donation bucket, but then we remembered that our attendees were going to be grad students and poets,” the statement was met with some big laughs. Rationing our attention was not going to be necessary. Lindenberg’s reading of her debut collection was everything that contemporary poetry readings should be, and nothing that they shouldn’t. She did voices, giving a Roxy Hart tinge to “you take me/ to awll the noicest places,” a hastily-rendered British accent to “Oh, Reginald,/ I’m so bored I do wish the London season would begin,” and even a quick Jack Nicholson impression: “Rebecca Lindenberg goes to the movies. Can’t handle the truth!” Lindenberg was bubbly, and friendly, and fun; she sipped coffee in between poems and sometimes in between phrases, because after all, we were just enjoying some good poetry from some comfy chairs in a wide warm room together. Love, An Index is the story of Lindenberg’s six-year relationship with respected poet Craig Arnold, as well as of his disappearance in 2009 while hiking a volcano on a Japanese island. The form of the work is unusual, as much is made up of footnotes, indexes, and many, many academic references. All of these things “POINT at something,” she enunciates with a matching gesture, but can’t quite name it. The volume is Craig Arnold in fragments, as Lindenberg hints fiercely in her explication, and the definition of “fragments” in her index is “Parts suggesting the whole/they long to be gathered into.” The footnotes and redirections and plethora of epigraphs recreate the way that literary tradition casts itself around, borrowing from and lending to classics and cohorts.

Forms and language in Love, an Index range from archaic to incredibly modern. “On the Sea,” is rendered in a form called “zuihitsu.” This translates, she explains, as “following the brush,” and the best known example is the 11th century text The Pillow Book by Shei Shonagon, a lady-in-waiting to the empress of Japan. In a sense, she says “it is just a list.” On the other end of the spectrum, Lindenberg read “Status Update,” a poem made up entirely of hypothetical Facebook activities such as, “Rebecca Lindenberg is drinking whiskey. Feels guilty. Is caught in one of/ those feedback loops,” and “Would like to add you as a friend. Would like to add you as an informant./ Would like to add you as her dark marauder, her lord and savior.” In a McSweeney’s interview she commented on this ricochet between the old and new saying, “Language is expansive and continuous — it is not a pop song that can only include that which is currently trendy, and it is not a politician’s speech, relentless in its earnestness. It’s a litany and a lollapalooza of the new (BFF,OMG, WTF, BTdubs) and the old (shindig, firewater, floozy — or further back — vassal, nunnery, bludgeon).”

The highlight of the reading is the excerpt from the collection’s expansive titular poem. An index of love, as promised, it is close to thirty pages and preceded by an epigraph from Arnold’s work, reading “They are your heart stutters to see/ the letters of another alphabet/ a vast lace of calligraphy/ a hundred thousand characters of praise.” It is a cataloguing of a man’s life, as well as a tributary act—offering his life and work a place amongst the literary classics by setting him amid endless references to them. “Epithet,” is defined as “Homeric, such as ‘swift-footed,’ even when the hero’s sitting down,/or ‘breaker-of-horses.’/ …I have some for you, tall man./ You have some for me.”

In all, the work speaks to the frustrations of artists who grind their teeth, and say, as Jennifer Egan does, “There are so many ways to go wrong. All we’ve got are metaphors and they’re never exactly right. You can never just. Say. The. Thing.” It’s a statement with which Lindenberg seems to largely agree, but with a personal solution to the problem she has carved out some hope: “The ‘unsayable’ thing at the center of the poem becomes visible to the poet and reader in the same way that dark matter becomes visible to the astrophysicist. You can’t see it, but by measure of its effect on the visible, it can become so precise a silhouette you can almost know it.”

Love, an Index is worth a read, if for no other reason, to experience a genuine act of devotion, taking the form of the painstaking and fearless recording of one profoundly simple, not altogether special, but entirely distinct — human life and human love.

Original Author: Kaitlyn Tiffany