JOAN GUENTHER’S “IN TIME”
a.rawlings: In December 2010, I facilitated EAR KNOWS THROAT, a workshop for the Toronto New School of Writing held at the beautiful scholarly and antiquated bookseller OF SWALLOWS, their deeds, & the winter below. On the final day of the workshops, participants were invited to perform an erasure exercise on one page of Eye Weekly (a local arts and culture newspaper), followed by a cut-up technique to rearrange isolated material. Joan Guenther’s resulting poem, “in time,” was the focus of enthusiastic discussion.
“worse than inside
the world in but” stumbling when
from start for weeks not war
But things along sign-offs but things his two come with
without wasn’t or secret you get the picture
the arts into simple to his crew perhaps and
to wipe was a but not it wasn’t!
to bring in various
Fellow participants Lindsay Cahill, Dare Shapiro, and I read Joan’s initial erasure aloud, our polyphony combing through the words and layout instinctively. We were all struck by the intact idiom “you get the picture” housed within the mass of disjunction. Lindsay volunteered to read the revised version, and again we agreed on the contrastive anchor-strength of this idiom amidst a sea of familiar yet syntactically estranged/estranging words/phrases. We got the picture that we didn’t get the picture at all. Lightning bolt!
And then there was deep pleasure as we identified other attracting moments in the text, where the juxtaposition of similar word-sounds in unexpected formation made our scalps tingle. We noted every instance of ‘in’— whether short- or long-vowelled, whether solo or embedded in another word— and we noted the frequency of sister-constructions ‘im,’ ‘ing,’ ‘ign,’ and ‘it.’ We flagged the befuddling familiarity of the repeated “but things,” a murky phrase somehow clear-crystallizing through its second iteration within the same line (usually a no-no in the realm of letters but it gave us a decided yes-yes). And the first ‘but’ and then the towering ‘But’ and a later, smaller ‘but’— perhaps they would have been wiped if only they’d grown an additional ‘t.’
Joan Guenther: the poem as is has got the rhythm of ordinary speech which i love and the clunking syntax that goes halfway somewhere over and over again making me smile...catching up the reader/speaker (i hope) and carrying her forward thru the permanent confusion of having too much to say...and always absolutely nothing to say...except for the ‘bingo’...i’m always tempted by the bingo...phrases so empty and so loaded at once and whoever authors anyone of them...no one and everyone...those phrases...i read them and hear them... are like feathers that sort of float down dislodged from birds fussing or striving overhead...pinch the feather out of the air and when you look up the birds have settled down or they’re long gone…
Joan Guenther is a reader and writer who lives in Toronto who considers her mentors and teachers to have included Ken Babstock, Margaret Christakos, Erin Mouré and a.rawlings. She reads Kate Eichhorn and Karen Mac Cormack and Rachel Zolf a lot. Joan has been a writer and editor for the on-line poetry magazine Influency Salon. Joan spent 20 years teaching elementary school in West Toronto and fifteen years as an activist with her teachers’ federation. She is a graduate of St. Francis Xavier University and York University.
Poet, arts educator, and interdisciplinarian a.rawlings has presented and published work throughout North America, Europe, and Australia. In the last decade, she held the position of assistant publisher for The Mercury Press and hosted a season of the television documentary series Heart of a Poet. Her first book, Wide slumber for lepidopterists (Coach House Books, 2006), received an Alcuin Award for Design and was nominated for the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award; the book is being translated into French by François Luong. Her works-in-progress Environment Canada and Rule of Three have been exhibited in the Simon Fraser University Art Gallery, Niagara Arts Centre, and Infusoria in Belgium. As the recipient of a Chalmers Arts Fellowship, angela spent 2009 and 2010 in Belgium, Canada, and Iceland working on her next manuscripts, researching sound/text/movement with special emphasis on vocal and contact improvisation, and collaborating with local artists. angela’s current collaborators are experiential theatre company bluemouth inc., Belgian artist Maja Jantar, Canadian musician Nilan Perera, and Canadian dancer Julie Lassonde. a.rawlings @ wordpress, myspace, twitter, tumblr: no slumber for volcanologists, tumblr: here north wrote.