If Amiri Baraka’s poem AM/TRAK channels jazz, then Hannah Weiner’s Clairvoyant Journal is television. Clairvoyant Journal is a barrage of words and images that reminded me of channel surfing on cable—150 channels of nothing on. It is the commercials, reality TV programs, late night infomercials, and FOX news pundits run through a blender and splashed on the page. Poor Hannah Weiner. If this was her experience of the world living with schizophrenia, it must have been debilitating. The only way I can imagine even coming close to this would be to zone in front of the tube glossy eyed, bag of Doritosä in hand, for days on end. And, fortunately for me, I still have the remote (unless it slipped between the cushions of the couch again). Obviously I had a hard time with this poem—and not just because it reminded me of TV (and I can barely stomach TV) or that it was particularly difficult in the way that some poems are difficult—it just didn’t allow me the one thing that I enjoy most about poetry—the opportunity to escape from reality. In fact, it did the opposite—it reminded me way too much of our hyper-consumerized, over-industrialized, super-sized culture. It wasn’t even so much the words that bugged me (although some of them did—the word fright pops up several times); it was the disorganization, multiple font sizes, and all-caps that really got to me. I felt assaulted by the BIG APOSTROPHE. Also, I have enough MONEY trouble without it being screamed at me—and don’t even get me started on the HOLY BIBLE. Having said all that, the fact that I was repulsed by her poem probably says a lot more about me than it does about her—and the fact that I still know that gives me hope.
On a more positive note, I liked Tjanting by Ron Silliman very much. Ironically, it reminds me in many ways of Weiner’s poem. They both convey a disjunctive stream of consciousness, but Clairvoyant Journal is exorcising demons while Tjanting is just distracted. In Silliman’s poem I could imagine an old, white-haired poet trying to overcome his writer’s block which was made all the more difficult because he could (cld) “barely grip the pen” (5). I was right there with him when he became sidetracked by the poppies growing out of the rockpile while the “cat on the bear rug naps” (54) and “(g)rease sizzles &/ spits on the stovetop” (54-55). I’m comforted to know that I am not the only person who makes the leap from “(t)hree/ friends with stiff necks” (70-71) to “(t)hree stiff friends with necks” (131) and, believe it or not, I don’t “like all those penises staring at me” (122) either! I have discovered, in Tjanting some of my new favorite lines in poetry. I especially like “Each sentence accounts for its place” (17) and “These gestures generate/ letters” (107-108). Not to mention, “Not everyone can/ make the sun come up” (161-162). I am now eager to check out more of Silliman’s poetry.
I am still pondering why these two, somewhat similar poems affected me so differently, but Google adwords gets results, what does “not to mention” mean?—am I using that correctly?, and, awww, she was so happy last night, but I should really take that cup downstairs to wash it, still, I need to remember to throw a calculator in my backpack in the morning, as long as I finish this journal by five-thirty I should be okay. Maybe it all comes down to this—Weiner’s schizophrenia frightens me while Silliman’s ADD is an affliction that I can really wrap my mind around (and around and around).
*I was so naive when I wrote this journal--seeing Weiner's Clairvoyant Journal in its original form has completely changed my opinion of it.