Notes on “The facts,” from Mónica de la Torre’s Public Domain
I’m struggling for a term for this: “The facts” is a series of titled “lists”; “non-poems”; “anti-poems”; … Running along the footer, at the end of each section, are italicized reasons for lists: [my bullets]
- “Lists are a form of problem solving.”
- “Lists are what you write when you think you’ve got everything in your head but you’ve started becoming suspicious of what that could possibly mean.”
- “Lists are what you need when your thoughts are scattered.”
- “Lists are what they tell you to begin with if you want to be on top of things.”
Lists have a function. Lists often contain facts, items, and/or actions to be performed. This piece is labeled “The facts” and in the first line we are told “This piece is therapeutic.” Made up of a series of one-sentence lines or left-justified paragraphs this first section, as well as several others in the series, looks a lot like a poem. And yet: “This won’t sound like music to you. // This won’t sound like music to me either. // Therein lies the project’s quandary.”
“The facts” seems to set lists up as a way out of a poem—they have a purpose, a function, they don’t “sound like music,” they contain “facts,” they are at once personal and yet remain outside the realm of lyric poems structured around the first-person pronoun “I,” a “you,” and an epiphany of sorts.
De la Torre extends this not-poem structure as well as “not sounding like music” into a sort of mis-sounding of language in the section “Letters Are What Is in a Name.” Here we slide between and across Spanish and English on words that sound similar (not quite homonyms, but close):
My key: task.
Maya skate team,
¿Y tu kama?
Tu suma, tema y meta.
Rather than moving through a sentence grammatically or in order to produce meaning as priority #1, here we move by a commonality between sound; through a progression of sound. My translation of the above passage is horrible but there is first an exclamation (¡Ey!), then “Do you love?” (¿Amas?) / “And your ped (bed)?” (¿Y tu kama?)—cama is “bed,” but is here spelled with a similar sounding “k” instead of a “c.” Then “You scrub me,” (Me matas) / “You tie me up.” (me atas) / “Sum it.” (Súmate.) / Your sum, theme, and aim. (Tu suma, tema y meta.) If this doesn’t sound like “music,” then why not?
And I think the answer might have to do with a suspicion of ‘grammatical correctness’ or ‘fluency’ and maybe even a polish and ‘mastery’ expected from poetry. The way that perfection in poetry excludes an awful lot, or the way that to be fluent in a language means you have to think in that language—these are heavy strictures to operate under. De la Torre certainly seems to be troubling simplistic understandings of both language and poetry. E.g.:
- Using sound to “break” two languages against one another;
- To let one language occlude another by sounding similar;
- To blur the distinction between a line and a paragraph (as in the first section);
- To blur the distinction between a poem and a list; a poem and process; a poem and performance.
What belongs in a poem?
What happens when we leave something out?
If a “poem” does not “sound like music” it makes [ what ]. Can do [ what ] and by [ whom ].
Tags: de la Torre, microreview, poetry, Public Domain, review, Roof Books, Torre