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Normally to write about something or someone, I read the book pretty quickly, circling the lines and poems and passages that grab me (today while re-experiencing the sensation of passing through the arcades of last night’s dreams. It’s early.) Usually, then, if I’ve pulled the pieces out I emphasized I now print them out, focusing on them and sometimes going back to the full text but mostly increasingly focusing on less so I can extract more out of it. Saying something. Erica Kaufman’s Instant Classic has haunted and befuddled me since I heard it last spring when we read together in Brooklyn one night just before she published it. When I submit these poems of hers to the normal treatment the work I responded to so helplessly does not remain—I have a shrink wrapped version of her Instant Classic which by the way has lately been published in an amended version meaning more has been published of what feels now like an even longer work I hope. All of these classics are headed by tiny fragments like the one that begins this piece. All are quotes by men—Wordsworth and Bahktin, Barthes and so on. Great quotes and in a way her instant classics are just “a gloss.” Some of the rhythm of the quotes lives on in the text that follows like a joke among a group of friends keeps waving and developing. To talk about Erica Kaufman’s book in a way the best way might be to talk about it to someone who doesn’t read poetry much and doesn’t know what it is. Because to describe her embodied pile-on style is to describe what I’ve come to know it (poetry) does. Her poem ends:
the so-called reservoir a single harvest heartless
like the lone emu lone alpaca amongst the biblical
marching band progression o want to reside
Instant Classic ends in an ache. And still to want to say what I so much like about this work, all of it, is to keep remembering that earlier on, earliest when I read it, first heard it, I was obsessed with her obsession with amputation:
i don’t control my own
amputation a straw taken
to the puss of the road.
which is the beginning of her book. Is it loss or toast. Womanly. Spaciousness? A surrender?
Eileen Myles is author of more than a dozen volumes of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction including The Importance of Being Iceland: Travel Essays in Art, Inferno (A Poet’s Novel), and most recently Snowflake / Different Streets. She is Professor Emeritus at UC San Diego and lives in New York.
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