My father is a mason. Or he was. I have no idea if that’s how he still makes ends meet.
Last quarter, I was made to focus on one of my weak spots in my writing: structure. Everything from line breaks to my lack of experimentation. My tendency to write sprawling narratives. Initially, I was defensive about this. I’d been reading Gravity’s Rainbow, was at the height (so far) of my feminist rage, and most advice I got from WCW, from Charles Olson, I read as ridiculous strutting of phallus.’
But I was getting really tired of pretty much any and all penis’ other than the one that belongs to my darling partner. I’d grown tired of not only their advice, but everything about our culture that has taught me that men are the ones with the answers. The ones we’re to direct our questions to.
In short, I was so fucking angry.
So I thought all the push to have more purposeful line breaks, to examine where my work failed to be projective verse, or verse for the page, had to do with all the dead white men of the canon. And I honestly didn’t want to even hear what they had to say.
The line is important. Structure is important. But. I didn’t want theirs. I wanted mine.
I hated that I didn’t know where to find it. I can’t say I had much actual structure in my life. We moved every two years or more. I was used to constant change, constant shifting. I’d like to believe it’s made me more resilient. But I fear it’s made me unable to put down roots. To know how to build anything.
Fallout happens. And it’s hard not to take it as evidence that nothing stays the same.
And even as I’m about to graduate with a Creative Writing degree, I find myself stumbling to name my fellow female poets any high school grad wouldn’t be able to name. I still don’t know very much about what they had to teach me. (Stay tuned as I explore them).
I was then introduced to the art of compost. He suggested I try an exercise called “Compost & the Worm.” It has since become a favorite of mine, especially when I’m feeling too overwhelmed to begin a new poem. The idea is to take a body of text (found text or your own piece that’s not quite working), and without thinking too hard about it (this is the hardest part of the exercise), read vertically and circle words or pairings as they catch your attention. Write them down elsewhere, and see what you have.
I approached the above visual poem the same way. I needed to explore structures, and the only way I knew how was by finding poems in everything I don’t understand. In all the shit left behind.
Hence, the brick wall. I’ve literally worked among brick walls, I live among brick walls, and thematically I keep running into them, head first.
Once, my sister Lydia noticed how much of her art over the last several years included a brick design. And suddenly remembered our father’s occupation. “Duh,” she said to herself, surprised she hadn’t realized it sooner.
Perhaps that’s what I love most about art: It won’t let you escape any hard truths. It won’t let you ignore what’s blocking you.
My father and I haven’t spoken in nine years. And even though I wouldn’t know what to say if we did, I cannot stop writing about him. Around him. Over him. Over the others I had hoped could take the place he left empty: could guide me, teach me how to build something sturdy, help me trust my hands as capable.
So I composted some simple instructions on masonry, I drew bricks around the words and phrases, cut them up, put them in a Tupperware and drew them out at random. From bottom left to top right, I built my own brick wall. And I know that’s a bit vertical/hierarchal, but I hope the rhizome in my process cancels out the only way we know how to build walls so far: from the ground up. At least I’m not asking anyone to pay for this one.
And as angry as I’d been at the time, I now gratefully admit that two separate male teachers, in two different contexts (political & poetics) introduced me to the term “rhizome,” which has never stopped inspiring me.
We need others to get through the unknowable. The obstructions.
I know what the wall I made means, where each brick leads. I know that a hole, a gap in knowledge, is just as much a structure as a bridge.
As often as I can, I’ll improve this text (linking each brick to other works/ideas I connect them to) so you can follow its roots with me.
Maybe one day we can knock it down.