Gillian Conoley on Awareness, in a Context of Nonstop War

H. L. Hix: On the second page of “4th” part of one line reads, “the war does not space itself”; but this assertion appears in a poem that does space itself, one of a collection of poems that space themselves.  The title “[PEACE]” is used for several of the poems.  In this book, what is the political importance of spacing?  What is the relation of spacing to peace?


Gillian Conoley:  Very interested by your idea that spacing is part of the politics of the work.  The use of spacing in my work came out of a long evolvement over years of becoming conscious of the page as its on entity, as an element of the poem, not a substance onto which the poem is placed. I found that using space allowed me to experience a poem in a different way, that it let in the actual act of perceiving in its own time (not after the fact) which is something I hope transfers over to the act of reading. Using space also allowed me to slow down the act of writing and perception. So it was more than playing with sound and duration and the visual aspects of the poem. Mallarme, Cage, Apollinaire, Olson, Eigner, Albiach–– all these poets are important to me as to their various and differing uses of space and the effects and experiences they came to.


But the politics. In this chapbook (which is part of a longer manuscript I’ve just finished called Peace) there is a kind of open capaciousness that started to happen.  Thematically what is being sought in the book is the question of how does one live in a country/world of nonstop war.  Does that mean there is no more peace, how are war and peace co-presences in the world, is that possible, what might this do to awareness.


So the line in the poem “4th” that you refer to, “the war does not space itself” appears in a poem that has a lot of space both within the lines and between them, lots of drop down sensations, etc. When I look at that line it has a speed and ferocity about itself (as opposed to the others in the poem, which are much more slowed down and tentative) that it makes me think that the line “the war does not space itself” is analogous to war itself: relentless, fast, firm, present, insistent, and that as experience it is unyielding.  So here I think we could say that the lack of space in that line works to make the line an action that is analogous to the action of war.  Whereas the other lines in the poem depict a floaty sort of 4th of July with a family that is both inside and outside the house, a lot of interior and exterior going on individually and collectively, and one can hear someone mimicking Janis Joplin in a fair down the street, while there are “two teenage        girls at the screen      with the sun in their eyes” and then comes that big drop down of space and here comes “all day time takes/       all the time       bright canisters in the culverts        girls read/      hills of it”.


In the middle of all this domesticity, the place of the home in the world, a place of sanctuary (peace?), on a day made by war, the 4th of July,  “the war does not space itself.”  Which throws the notion of the home as sanctuary, the presence of peace, into an angle of relief and illusion, momentarily—a lot starts to go on in the spatial and temporal—a balancing and counter-balancing––a tension or struggle between the two.


This brings me to your next question, “What is the relation of spacing to peace”?  On a physical level, I experience those lines (the “two teenage” lines on down) in a much more gradual, open, slowly arriving way, much more tentative and unsure of themselves as they find their placement in the poem. So the notion of peace is coming in more tentatively, hesitantly, quietly, and yet it is there, making itself manifest.


In terms of material, maybe space is trusted more than a straight word impacted utterance.  Maybe space, emptiness, void, allows something else to happen. If we look at regularized syntax and “norm” of utterance as a kind of power, maybe space lets us break down or circle around that power.  Or be present around it. Or maybe not, but that’s part of the inquiry of the work.


Gillian Conoley.  an oh a sky a fabric an undertow.  Albion Books, 2011.


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