Taking its title from a sign outside the bart station in Oakland, California, FLOWER CART finds, makes, documents, pieces together and steps out of the way of language at ground level. Being alive in acts of reading is writing in Fishman’s fourth book, where the materiality of words, weather, plantlife, handwriting and decay are engrafted in a hybrid ecology that is archival and lyric. The book’s archival impulse lies in its attention to stray bodies of speech and text that Fishman does not alter but presents as interfused with her own sensibility (materially lyric), her location (rural Midwest), and the forms and rhythms of being here at this time that is more than one time.
to have unheld a scale—
silver dishes little mirrors on their chains—
they go that way, This
It’s not like looking into a pool,
to let your intelligence run away with you
Come back quarter size, apricot moon
A changeling is a child who
appeared under cover
of the ordinary, in exchange
the morning came
I have such pretty handwriting
no one said but I myself thought it
to myself so I matted it
like the grasses or a canvas or some
uncombed hair. It became a mess
which was the research of where things go.
A child could figure it out
if there is such a thing as “out”
in the sense of being figured in
The thinking was like Origami,
everyone folded out of birds, into specific
kinds of birds
I call you
Copyright ©2011 Lisa Fishman
“Brevity, oddity, familial joys and intermittent worries, and delight in rural space have come to be what we expect from Fishman (The Happiness Experiment), and they are among the goods she delivers, though in an unexpected form. Her pages of untitled, fragmentary utterance, mixed with what sound like quotations from childhood diaries, make the whole project seem like a single poem, moving between fact and dream, between 1980, 1910, and 2011, in order to trace the continuity of domestic experience, while keeping us alert to historical change. Provocative, bare lists (‘waffle iron/ follow-up/ document/ tom boy/ solitary/ blossom’) join excerpts from old phrasebooks: ‘Please tell me why you are leaving/ What did you buy?/ What did you say?’ The volume gets further from conventional, self-enclosed lyric as readers move through it, encountering, toward the end, 15 facsimile pages from a 1910 workbook called ‘Trees I Have Seen,’ and then a few pages blank except for such admonitions as ‘Do not kneel.’ Fishman’s rough song, short phrases, and southern Wisconsin locale inspire comparisons to Lorine Niedecker. Fishman remains among the friendliest of experimental poets, inviting us into her time machine, into her game.” —Publishers Weekly
May 11, 2010. Orfordville, Wisconsin, population 1072, is where I live in a small farmhouse built by Swedish immigrants in about 1890. Two weeks ago we released 4,000 bees into the orchard; two hives and the honey will be tended by a friend. A gigantic workhorse, a Percheron, just moved into the neighbor’s field (not sure whose horse it is), twelve chicks moved from the basement into the coop, and the stray barn cat—whom we tried to get spayed last year—just had five kittens the second Spring in a row. We have a child named James who will be six very soon.
And I live in Madison, Wisconsin, where James goes to kindergarten and where our friends live.
It turns out that the friends are important to the poetry, especially in Current (Parlor Press 2010), which was written after F L O W E R C A R T but came out before.
I teach in Chicago at Columbia College. So I ride a double-decker regional bus from Madison to Chicago, stay in Chicago for two nights in the middle of the week and return to Madison in time to pick up my son from school. Summers are in Orfordville, Fall is apples and cider-pressing.
These are some of the things that live around the writing but there are others, good and bad. Lots of poets who live at different times, both now and then--influences--and novelists. But the novels I love (especially Lawrence, Bowen, George Eliot) are mostly from one period; they span less time than the poetry, which goes everywhere and encompasses many many. I guess it doesn’t matter who wrote them, to paraphrase someone. I’m in sympathy with Shelley’s view that it’s all part of one giant poem being written over time, a chain of “effluence.”
Born mid-December 1966 in Michigan, childhood in Clarkston, Mt. Clemens, Pontiac, Leelanau County. Then Michigan State University, Twin Cities, Western Michigan University, Emigration Canyon in Salt Lake City, New York City. The land was fallow when Henry and I moved to Orfordville from New York in 1998—we planted everything starting with garlic; now there are a few thousand fruit trees on about ten acres as well as berries and vegetables.
It’s not likely the oil spewing from BP will be contained, right at the beginning of nesting season. The Supreme Court ruled that corporations are “like people” and so can donate any amount of money to a candidate. Barak Obama said the war in Afghanistan is a smart war. These are some things also now, not separate from a sketch of the self at one moment in time. But not integrated here: the jarring is how it feels, and there are different ways into the multiplicities.
My father is from Montreal, born 1930. I’m in the process of securing Canadian citizenship by virtue of his status as one of the “Lost Canadians.” My mother taught second grade, her mother taught kindergarten and fourth grade, my grandfather sold “business machines,” meaning typewriters. My paternal grandparents emigrated from Odessa and Bucovina; my grandfather worked in a hat factory in Montreal. My sister is a dancer and pianist, my stepmother a modern dance accompanist in New York City. I worked for several summers as a staff writer for a daily paper, the Traverse City Record Eagle. I wrote a doctoral dissertation on Shelley and Mercury. Jobs in restaurants, bookstores, the flea market at 26th St. (now in Hell’s Kitchen), the library archives at Union Theological Seminary. A Hasidic café in St. Paul. Not in order.
I like being surrounded by languages other than English and find it very difficult—everything feels false—to write autobiographical information. The books are where the self is, utterly, whether or not the poems are about the self. I haven’t been to New Haven but love the name Elizabeth Park, where Stevens sat.
The collection opens with a letter, found in a thrift shop, from a Milwaukee soil scientist to a librarian in 1916; the letter bears the faint imprint of a corn sample that wore through the paper. The corn had been examined on request by the letter-writer, who found that it “does not possess the characteristics of any one particular variety.” The scientist informs the librarian that “[t]he sample submitted by you includes a distinct mixture of at least three different types of corn.” Later in FLOWER CART a notebook appears, another found object, which I transcribed. The notebook’s lists, sentences, repetitions and elisions evoke a Niedeckerian/Steinian rural Midwestern grandmother during the Iran hostage crisis, disclosing in her notebook a kind of "Yellow Wallpaper" world of her own and not her own. I've also included photographs of Trees I Have Seen, a small book made for field notes in 1901. The anonymous botany student’s descriptions and drawings of leaf shapes, bark textures and growth processes function for me as a kind of ars poetica: the precise and oddly beautiful script is experienced as description itself. The writing and drawing in "Trees I Have Seen" constitute that book (which would otherwise consist of blank pages), which in turn constitutes part of Fishman’s book, part of the flowering cart.
With regard to found texts, my method is inclusion, documentation, material reproduction rather than collage, revision, erasure. But FLOWER CART consists as much of my own poetry as of others’ script, typescript, voices and signs. My individual poems span several seasons marked by building and unbuilding (a hoophouse gets made, machines get moved by tornadoes), scrutiny of the seen and the unseen (girls hide in lilac bushes, analysis goes further), and the tacit investigation of things and bodies in relation to other things and bodies—in nature, history, time. Implicitly, then, it is an ethics and an ecology that FLOWER CART explores—word by word, letter by letter, and in the spaces between.