blackbirdonline journalSpring 2009  Vol. 8  No. 1


Kara Candito | The Soup and the Clouds

My dear little mad beloved was serving my dinner, and I was looking out of the open dining room window contemplating those moving architectural marvels that God constructs out of mist, edifices of the impalpable. And as I looked I was saying to myself: “All those phantasmagoria are almost as beautiful as my beloved’s beautiful eyes, as the green eyes of my mad monstrous little beloved.”

All of a sudden I felt a terrible blow of a fist on my back and heard a husky and charming voice, an hysterical voice, a hoarse brandy voice, the voice of my dear little beloved, saying: “Aren’t you ever going to eat your soup, you damned bastard of a cloud-monger?”

—Baudelaire, “The Soup and the Clouds”
   Paris Spleen, trans. Louise Varèse

“How unlikely,” Bishop would say of Baudelaire’s final line. How frightening and fun it feels when the fist of reality smashes the poet’s imagined green-eyed mermaid in the mist. This husky, charming, hysterical “hoarse brandy voice” that screams, the poet has no clothes on!

What does all of this have to do with process? I will not and cannot answer this question, but I will say that I believe there is something of the cloud-monger in every poet, the escapist who swears she can write herself out of a world of television, banal conversations, and oil changes. Strangely enough, it is my writing process that compels me, again and again, against my will, to seek out the shrill voice of the real.

First, I should say that process sounds like a euphemism, the bathroom tissue to my ungainly, toilet-papery feats of adding, subtracting, and layering images and places and people. In the course of these surgical, completely unmagical exercises, I’ve learned that I spend most of my time elsewhere, trying to conjure what isn’t there. Does this mean that I write because restlessness is my one, true mode of being in the world? Maybe. What I know is that when I set out to write toward the receding plane of my cloud-mongrel ideals, the debris of real life and experience always clutter the path of that initial drive.

Take “Polarity,” one of the poems that I published in Blackbird. It’’s a poem about betrayal and it announces itself as such. But, does betrayal become comical or absurd when it’s dragged through the detours of perverse enjoyment? And what happens when you can’t separate the pain of betrayal from that deviant pleasure you take in the knowledge that you are suffering through something important, something that feels larger than self and situation? The short answer to the second question is yes. The answer to the first is that the poem takes three years and countless drafts to write. The longer, always incomplete answer is that the “final draft” of the poem must enact these contradictory poles, these all-too-human drives that interrupt and subvert the poet’s original intentions. I think my poetry works when it arrives somewhere beyond integrity, at the messy supper table of authentic experience.

I believe that to write is to acknowledge a self-annihilating drive. Poetry—whether it is formal, lyrical, narrative, surreal, associative, etc.—propels itself toward that elusive border between identity and nonidentity, consciousness and unconsciousness. For me at least, the process of reaching toward this border takes a tremendous, unglamorous amount of work. If I end up with a good poem, a poem that reaches beyond the limitations of its original perceptions, all of this work is subsumed by a kind of inevitability, a momentum that seals its own seams with invisible thread.

I find that most writers are irrationally gleeful about the chance to bear witness to the inner machinery of another writer’s process. I was deeply, abjectly, satisfied when I read Plath’s Ariel: The Restored Edition. How reassuring it felt to read those masterpieces before they shot down the page like poisonous, mythopoeic darts. Yet, this very effort that I think and hope most writers go through is my Drugstore Archangel, the force that keeps me from living outside of myself.

Of course, all of this might be the story that I tell myself to justify the maddening highs and lows of writing, the deadening routine of sitting down at my well-loved desk with just a few lines and a desperate urge to cross that border. And don’t we love ironies that history makes of even (especially?) the best writers and their manifestos? Eliot, the sentimental New Critic and late in the game Catholic! My beloved Hart Crane, who said of “The Waste Land,” “[it’s] good, of course, but so damned dead,” and then proceeded to write The Bridge! If I’m passionately deluded, at least I’m in good company.

Whatever the case, I know that I write to find the soup in the clouds. To char the tip of my tongue on the soup. To spill it down the front of a white, white shirt at a table full of well-dressed strangers. I write because the second I stand back and blow on the steaming bowl, I’m retreating toward edifices of the impalpable.  end

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