Tuesday, July 01, 2003

Consider “Another Artifact”:


Open lips for sucking and pouting were all stopped up with a plug that wouldn’t come out. Without result, lips and teeth tugged on the plug of a wasp wasted object. Baby’s hands were moist as usual so she wiped them down the side of her shirt. But she couldn’t pull the stopper out even with the use of her wadded up shirt, which she had finally struggled out of. A voice from behind her said, it isn’t supposed to open. Hands pried baby’s digits away dislodging the object, which was returned then to a shelf and set between a portrait of baby and a kachina doll with green pants and something earnest about it moving forward. For a minute baby looked around for her shirt. It had apparently disappeared along with the door shutting. Baby’s lips moved in and out in a sucking pout as she contemplated the wasp-wasted relic on the shelf. The object was obviously the physical manifestation of the inside of a song bound up methodically around the middle with twine. Such fortification caused baby to place her hand two inches below her navel and rub there with a circular motion. Her belly was getting hot and her body was tuning up. Eee sounds rose clear and up into her throat from her navel. If there had been silence, silence would have been pierced but the room was always humming.


Whenever I’m feeling like I have this writing thing half figured out, all I have to do is come across a text like the one above, by Carla Harryman from the latest issue of Larry Fagin’s zine, Sal Mimeo, & I immediately have a sense of just how very little I really know & how much more there is to learn.


“Another Artifact” is one of 16 pieces from Baby published here. In 2000, a Harryman contributor’s note in How2 referred to a “book of prose poems titled Three Portraits: M., Baby, and Him.” My presumption is that this text comes from that project, although it is always possible that the project itself may have evolved in the three years since that note. But what intrigues me here is the use of the genre identifier “prose poems” in conjunction with the work above &, indeed, with the entire series in Sal Mimeo. Harryman, here as elsewhere, is pushing definitions out to places they’ve not previously inhabited.


I’ve tended to see Harryman’s written texts as exploring a terrain between what have traditionally been thought of as fiction & theater, but doing so with an understanding of language that extends directly from her engagement with poetry. Thus Baby in general, and pieces like the above in particular, seem to me very much about the construction of the metasignifier Character. The depictive terrain – the referential context of the piece as a whole (& indeed of the 16 pieces gathered here) – is restricted much in the way that theater limits its frames.