Laura Mullen
April 2010


Laura MullenLaura Mullen is a Professor at Louisiana State University. She is the author of three collections of poetry—The Surface, After I Was Dead, and Subject—and two hybrid texts, The Tales of Horror, and Murmur. Prizes for her poetry include Ironwood’s Stanford Prize, and she has been awarded a Board of Regents ATLAS grant, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship and a Rona Jaffe Award, among other honors. She has had several MacDowell Fellowships and is a frequent visitor to the Summer Writing Program at Naropa. Her work is included in the anthology American Hybrid. Jason Eckardt’s setting of “The Distance (This)” (from Subject) premiered at the Miller Theater in New York and was performed at the Musica Nova festival in Helsinki. She was invited to participate in the Taipei International Poetry Festival in 2009.

Statement of Poetics

“ imparted secret, at once public and private, absolutely one and the other, absolved from within and from without, neither one nor the other, the animal thrown onto the road, absolute, solitary, rolled up in a ball, next to (it)self.”
Derrida, "Che cos' la poesia?"

The shaping forces I want to understand from the inside out. I want to feel time, I heard myself saying urgently, but I am the clock. So, poetry, which brings into being its own hour and (“thrown onto the road”) arrives—punctual, breathless—at the instant of an emerging appointment. Not the urge to explain, or trace an action’s arc, not defensive or assertive or confessional though a poem might wander uneasily across every possible response, but the strange claim or connection—and all the consequences.

An imperfect fit, poetry finds or makes the slight or wide slant, the askew aspect, opening just that fractional or yawning unbridgeable distance to the arc of the charge: to animate. In the poem alive again in each encounter, words are part of the experience: not description but enactment. The 500 year old sonnet’s green yearning and bitterness is a branch that snaps again against the out-thrust hand; still dense and fresh, the 50 year old sound poem buzzes, tickles, promises, rejects, and delights; the 5 year old lyrical series using documentary materials and techniques tugs us onward, brave and lovely, toward facts that keep their sharp power to hurt, amaze, and challenge—if we have the language, the time, and the interest.

Seemingly easy to turn away from, to overlook, and at the same time tooeverything, poetry. An extreme expenditure of energies: for writer and reader. Costly—not “elite” but—taking our attention out of bounds (to loosen the bonds): a kind of writing that is exposed, in its own way, and exposes those who come to it.

In high school, before the importing (from Europe) of intense fruit ices, or, when all we had in Northern California were the bland and milky sherbets, I developed a taste for frozen grapefruit juice concentrate: the crunch of icy pulp in my teeth, the sear on my tongue of sweet and tart. One day, at the little market we all trotted off to at lunchtime, I bought a can, asking for a wooden ice-cream spoon at the cash register while popping the lid off. The owner of the store—who’d already rung up and accepted the cash for my purchase—said, “you can’t eat that.” At first he was condescending and then, as he followed me out of the store repeating his phrase, he was annoyed, and finally angry and frantic. At some point, near the edge of the parking lot, I may have pointed out that I was eating “that,” and intended to go on eating it…but I may have just demonstrated the fact. At some point he realized he had to go back to the store, of course. In memory his cries become shrill and faint, vanishing beneath the uneasy laughter of the friends I was with, the conversation we resumed, and the pleasure of each cold rough zingy bite.

“What I’m not allowed to feel what I’m not allowed to say,” I wrote, in an early poem, “pressing up.”

Restrictions on experience (inside and outside), the body as a structured and supervised situation: limitations on the process of understanding and on the possibility of enjoyment.

Break. Break.

Poetry a way out between deadly options: lies or silence.

Sylvia Plath and Richard Brautigan early avatars: dauntless misfits. Then Gertrude Stein: no longer new wine in old bottles. Any paraphrase destroys the word event. Drink glass.

If we have the language, if we have or are willing to acquire the information required of us (connotation, reference…); if we have the interest, the energy for and curiosity about what might be outside the given outline, or the limited—by inherited schemas—take. If we have the time. This is before we come to the handshake or any other contact. “Do you have the time?” is a question often posed by strangers with some to share but none to waste.

The approach oblique.

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