Laurie Saurborn Young on Particulates

H. L. Hix: “A Perpetuall Light” (57) includes the declaration “How particulate our lives.”  Your choice of “particulate” rather than “particular” makes this declaration seem important to the book’s focus.  One the one hand, there is a repeated tendency to consume the particles of our particulate lives, to be carnivorous, and on the other there is a tendency to collect the particles, to catalog and list them (23), to sequence them (33), to “take stock” (72).  Am I right to see this sense that our lives are particulate as one thematic concern in the collection?


Laurie Saurborn Young:  Harvey, thanks for asking this question. As it happens, particles have been much on my mind, lately, as I’ve taken a layperson’s interest in quantum mechanics. To put the theory way too simply, all we see before us—our family and friends, children, pets, tables, windows, clouds, roads, oil—are made of atoms oscillating at different energy levels. Everything’s buzzing; everything is moving, even when it appears to be at rest. In turn, atoms are a type of particle, which brings us to that wonderful word, particulate. There’s the use of particulate as an adjective, relating to separate, minute particles; as a noun, as in a particulate substance; and then also there’s particulate inheritance, aka, Mendelian Inheritance, which has to do with how characteristics are transmitted by genes. In a way, our lives are unavoidably particulate.


In writing a poem, I suppose I am always moving towards those Intersections of particles and perception. Towards a conglomeration of sound, science, music and psychology. Our neurons, our brains are made of particles. What are thoughts made of? The words on the page are constructed of particles, but what of the words in our heads? Our voices? Some sort of particle not yet discovered? It’s strange to think of particles as indicative of connection—we tend to use the word in terms of finite limits—but by sharing the characteristic of a particle nature, if you will, then doesn’t this point to the connectivity of everything and every creature? Perhaps we are particulates within the Great Particular? In current times we are overly concerned with—and convinced of—our body boundaries. That’s one of the bigger failures of consciousness, in that it excuses a lot mistreatment of others, be they animal (I’m including humans here) or plant or mineral or water. I read a lot of Whitman last year, and to me he is the Supreme Quantum Poet: For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you. We are big believers in or. As in, I am this or that. Or causes such stress, such isolation and sadness! There’s a real relief in believing in and: I am this and that. So in more direct reference to your question, in the poems the actions and themes of digesting, collecting, cataloging, and taking stock all co-occur.


This happens within books and within lives. I hate to bring in this over-used reference (though maybe it’s not over-used in poetry—yet) of the movie, The Matrix—the scene where Neo and Trinity are dodging bullets in slow motion, and flipping upside down in those sweeping leather jackets. There are times in our lives—ones of great happiness, sadness, and courage—when one’s experience of the world is slowed down, and certain particles from that background (the building lobby) come to the foreground (whizzing bullets). A major destruction of the fourth wall. In living, we are not projected; we are not acting. Somehow, we are apart and within at the same time. Ultimately, I guess I’m writing towards that and, towards that suspension of movement. Of getting to a place, by one’s own choice, or not, where time and space slow down and certain small pieces that are often overlooked drift forward to be recognized.


Laurie Saurborn Young.  Carnavoria.  H_ngm_n Books, 2012.


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