Lines of Relation and Sites of Refusal:
Four contemporary poets writing outside the genre
Part Four: Harmony Holiday’s Go Find Your Father / A Famous Blues
There is nothing beautiful but what is forgotten.
-Lurine (as noted in The Arcades Project d4,4)
Memory, in the hands of Holiday, is active in an equally dynamic attempt to situate itself, its own conceptions, direction, and the affective ebb and flow of constituent parts, within a context of personal experience. Holiday’s approach to memory and its management is participatory and serves to pursue affective possibilities through articulation, not only as memory takes stock of itself and its own cognitive archive but of the future possibilities of the past. Those possibilities being forms, positions, and affective postures that the past may assume that we might feel them all the more, or again—as memory fades and drifts—even if for the first time. It is an attempt at realizing the full range of human possibilities at the intersection of form and memory.
As it applies to memory, Holiday is unique in her approach to revision. It is not an inherently problematic element but operates as a form of retelling. It’s openly engaged and formally dynamic, and is not treated as a necessary threat to memory, its existence, nor to its record or ability to record, but is an element of its activity that lends vitality to it and to the very life of the past. Retelling is memory’s resource, as it reorganizes itself and keeps itself active and in perpetual relation to not only the subject and focal point of the memory, but those in view of its articulation and recomposition:
The last words I remember him
saying were but if you guys leave me I’ll die. My romance doesn’t have to have a heart.
The book’s fundamental concerns are entirely contingent on and constitutive of one another. That is to say they are wholly interdependent concerns.The nature of memory in Go Find Your Father / A Famous Blues is one of inquiry and transition, and memory’s already fugitive character is cast further afield. Memory then is in constant tension with the impermanence of its own occasional status and fugitivity. This, in large, is cause for its interdependent relationship with composition, and composition’s own perpetual reorganization. The memory Holiday articulates is that of familiar shadows cast by bodies and objects in motion, entities that have no default position or anticipated range or controllable motion. Holiday seeks the memory of her father and so articulates it across a number of forms. Seeking with only a few handfuls of what seem to be distinctive memories, which amount to traces of a her father’s life lived by the genius and nerve of its own convictions.
Holiday’s poetic, epistolary, and supplementary forms articulate the memory of the man and a personal experience as it relates to its own reckoned past. Its modalities of thought, to wit, networks of form and ways of being spring forth from the newly inscribed sentence and form employed to articulate memory, in a hope that it will be sufficient to attend the legacy of a life lived as well as the concurrent authorial life it sustains. Each textual instance and iteration has the pull of a disquieted star and retraces the action of actual human experience. And even the most insignificant iteration is laden with the presence of the past and the richness of the forward looking present and serves as a rearticulation of the history of experience and the harbinger of subjective experience.
MY FUNNY VALENTINE IN TIME
Eternity for me has always possessed these immaculate bay windows that look out onto blind alternate takes of the last time I saw my father before he entered that great always on February 15, 1987. A mahogany black man at about 6’3” roused from his habitual afternoon nap for the event: being arrested by a couple of stout white cops at the door of our Iowa home. I had turned him in; I had lied and said it was my brother Percy at our door, my mom’s advice, I was five, I was high yellow and what did he do to be so black and blue. . . .
As a reader, putting the pieces together that constitute memory alongside the author, as one is apt to do given the supplementary organization of the work, one is struck by the real antagonism that was the world for the man that was Holiday’s father, and that world as it’s recomposed by the author remains in racial, cultural, and economic conflict. The conflict is tangible, though perhaps more so for those with firsthand experience with racial and economic violence, and drives the book forward and through the various postures of form it’s necessary to assume when the articulation is true to the scope and character of a life in actual tension with a world where one is made as fugitive as the memory that sustains it.
Such activity is familiarly described as innovative writing. Writing that cuts, as it were, back into writing’s past, enacting an incision and removing textual flesh as if from a living organism. Such removals from the textual past serve to challenge previous accomplishments as well as a challenge to contemporaneity to graft a new syntax onto the textual body. Effacing it while performing necessary infusions. All the while challenging contemporary claims on writing and innovation, proposing in fact the possibility that the advantage of hindsight can be misleading. Perhaps that is the impetus of memory, to organize, and at its most basic level writing is the preoccupation with organization, and more to the point, the reorganization of previously organized.
Thanks. Look out for Sara too, and for Mom, and me and Debby too. We all need you more than we know.
A history cannot be retold without it being contained in some active archive, as well as it being completely struck from its historical context and re-inscribed as palimpsest — at best. A retelling of an individual or focused history is not tantamount to truth. But who can say that it isn’t, and who can say that it isn’t a “schizophrenic clattering either,” (Albon) in need and use of a number of literary forms and iterations as is the case with Go Find Your Father / A Famous Blues.