The Whole Marie cover photo
Barbara Maloutas author photo
  • Series: Sawtooth 2009
  • ISBN-13: 978-1-934103-04-3
  • ISBN-10: 1-934103-04-7
  • Pages: 112
  • Size: 6 x 6 x 8 in
  • Price: $17.50

The Whole Marie

Barbara Maloutas

Winner of the 2008 Sawtooth Poetry Prize

“A nexus of associations, psychic and social, binds olive groves to the pretext of a headache to the thinnest dresses. A record of solitary activity, mental and physical, disrupts a life in a context where a succession of bookkeepers is recalled, a car is towed, an easement is sought, and tourists are studied, because sooner or later, one is one. Patient, curious, ranging, the whole Marie has a personality. And it is artifactual. And wondrous. Its ambiguities are offset by its concretions. Vice versa. She carries her ‘one time camera.’ Finally, the breath is her guide.” —C.D. Wright, judge of the 2008 Sawtooth Poetry Prize

Direction 1

 

a flower comes felled after (me)
a bridge passes broken over (us)
a baker looks solitary on as obsession
is reborn blind out (side)
a fake pinebranches fold trimmed and(all)
old men shimmer against themselves
take carestumble transient almost
an eagle grows in mid-air a (way) from the canopy
time seems short for sure(there’s a beach)
(I) hear barren inside
when an apple
blushes in candy pink
light is early and water
goes soft

 

Copyright © 2009 by Barbara Maloutas

“The poems of the whole Marie pull one into worlds richly realized, recognizable, puzzling. Their language works to try to find things out (‘this learning to tell me’). How does one learn to tell time and to know it as both present and mythically ancient? How does one know the unfamiliar familiar—a grove of olive trees, a painter like Delacroix, mistaken directions, skeletal sponges, her tone of voice? The attentiveness of this work is assured, intelligent, and a source of joy for the reader. In Greece, where a number of the poems are located, the details are ordinary and also freighted with mystery, a mystery created by space in the middle of a line, by unusual parentheses that reverse subject and object, by unfinished sentences, by images that are wonderfully unexpected, wonderfully apt:

old men shimmer against themselves

take care stumble transient almost

an eagle grows in mid-air a(way) from the canopy

time seems short for sure (there's a beach)”

—Martha Ronk

 

“Author, authority . . . English provides no label for the feminine voice. Barbara Maloutas' the whole Marie is naming itself from the inside out. It is watching and being watchedtearing down and holding on: ‘somebody dies briefly sometimes is (tomorrow)’all the openings that present themselves, close themselves: ‘a relentless repetition of cutting and healing; where is unconsciousness kept;’ The words trail off and spiral away with a finity that toys with transcendence: ‘in the shadow of myself I see from above and at see-level; to find harmony in all this radial beauty.’ This is a strong, feminine voice that takes no direction and seems to be headed in all, at once. Everyone should start adjusting, and adjust, and adjust; or, as Maloutas puts it: ‘who let her through the gate / with loose bags like these . . . .’ —Diane Ward

Barbara Maloutas author photoI was born in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, the eldest daughter in a line of eldest daughters. My mother’s mother was born of Quaker stock on her mother’s side, a secret she kept from her family until she one day told me. As a very young child I named her Bobo and it stuck for the rest of her life. A long Irish Catholic tradition on my father’s side included his mother’s firm belief that donkeys do at times kneel in prayer. This strong Catholic upbringing eventually led to six years as a member of a progressive religious community that ran hospitals, clinics and medical training centers around the world. With no talent in the field of medicine, I worked in the community’s art department, and did well enough that they sent me off to Philadelphia College of Art for a BFA in Graphic Design. After six years, including John XXIII’s progressive Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, I left the community and moved with my parents to Europe. There I completed my BFA degree, and followed up with work on an MFA at the Algemeine Gewerbeschule in Basel, Switzerland with designer Armin Hoffman and typographer Wolfgang Weingart.

In 1970 I met my husband, Paul, in Brussels—two years later we were married in Switzerland. Walking from my mother-in-law’s family house to the local Catholic Church, letters from the Bishop of Philadelphia laid on the altar affirmed I was no longer a nun. We spent time over the next three years in Switzerland and Greece. Paul worked in hotels and I worked in a small map-making Verlag where we spoke English, French, Swiss-German, German and Italian, every day, all at once. After returning to the United States, for many years I helped Paul run a wholesale travel company—the main destination was Greece. Our two children now grown have traveled both as children and young adults to Greece and Europe many times.

In 1988, I began teaching design and typography at Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles, and in 1996, became Assistant Chair in the Communication Arts department. I started writing during the years I was studying graphic design in Basel. As a freelance designer I have combined writing with design in many projects for my favorite clients. In 1994, I began writing poetry and hand-making small edition artist’s books. As an applicant for the Otis MFA in Creative Writing I wrote a large portfolio of cinquains (5 lines of 2, 4, 6, 8, 2 syllables) during summer vacations in Athens, in a village on the Peloponnesus and on the island of Hydra. I graduated in 2003 and my Otis MFA thesis, In a Combination of Practices, won the New Issues Poetry Prize for first books in 2003. The same year Diagram/New Michigan Press published a chapbook, Practices; both included diagrams accompanying prose poems.

Greece’s ethos continues to hold on to me. It is complex and contradictory. I should be a yaya there by this time in my life, but I am not there and I still think of myself as a passionate observer. After all, I know o kyrie Petro, o kyrie Yanni kai kyria Eleftheria. I want the writing that results from this intimacy to not describe a thing in particular, but instead to engage a lively, shifting, indeterminate, variously voiced and Gertrude Steinian “continuous present.”

Admittedly autobiography is a source for texts in poetry but the challenge is to bring elements of experience into “a present.” This is most possible through happenstance and details collected contiguously, and so in “last Tuesday” happenstance sounds “chancey.”

 

of anything a sublimation ouch

asking for the sake of dwelling in chance

tin and copper chancey

 

I understand Marjorie Perloff pointing to Lyn Hejinian’s thinking—how “context is the chance that time takes.” It takes time to subvert likenesses. Forgetting is a blessing. I remember some of what I overhear. I delay with spaces and make visual units that have little white walls of nothing around them. Living has made me pragmatic. I’m not in an English department. I think I like puns, the nuns did—we did. Etymology has always been of keen interest. I was seduced with roots. I am usually hesitant and would rather be that than authoritative. My mother was nervous except when she was herself. Parody comes from the Greek for sing and beside. I think I can sing. I use too many parentheses. It’s not exactly digression, more like getting it right after the fact, or more right and more unfamiliar. I too own and have read Victor Shklovsky in Russian Formalist Criticism: Four Essays for his theory of perception and defamiliarization:

The purpose of art is to impart the sensation of things as they are perceived and not as they are known. The technique of art is to make objects ‘unfamiliar’, to make forms difficult, to increase the difficulty and length of perception because the process of perception is an aesthetic end in itself and must be prolonged. Art is a way of experiencing the artfulness of an object; the object is not important.

I am interested as well in writing on craft such as Aldren A. Watson’s in Hand Bookbinding: A Manual of Instruction, copyright MCMLXIII. Anyway there are not just two roads. How things work interest me. In Athens there is a street for plumbers and one for light bulbs and each store has their little specialty. I always go back to figure/ground. Hejinian thinks writing is the site of such thinking. A green and shimmery spider is walking across my windshield—in Los Angeles. Up to this moment I have used only Volume One (from A to pocket veto) of The New Century Dictionary of the English Language, copyright 1946. Now with shimmery, I go to Volume Two (from pock-mark to zymurgy) where New Century defines shimmery as shining with soft, faint gleams of light, an adverb. At my age, intuition counts. Ethos means characteristic spirit and ethó (with the accent on the second syllable and the th more like a d) means here in Greek. The two words in two languages echo each other in “on Porto.”

 

2

I can hear his quick decision ethó cut it—and ethó—here— ethó he says again; neighbor—this neighbor-man takes no prisoners; we are strangers to Porto and a town below—we barely throw anything out—nothing is too low below; this second house in a second country is full of old pots old dishes old towels—old and below; I climb hills—alight on a terrace—stir ashes and take a record specimen; I make a photo of his work; I am thieving in the neighbor’s grove—mapping evidence; the formal demands of clearing slopes—keeping height from taking over—and over each year; am I tempted to be here

 

This shining with soft, faint gleams of light also reminds me of lines in “direction 2.”

 

and darkness leads back towards (belongs)

to walls (of) clear neon now

the sky goes and seeps small bonfires

(I’m) afraid a sports car dips the red (shimmy)

 

Everyone knows that a little red sports car is a target of cops, perhaps rightly so if associated with a sky that seeps small bonfires in this fire prone region and it’s not shimmery but almost.

“Abiding Delacroix” alludes to the older phrase—I can’t abide him. Reading the diary of Delacroix and seeking out his paintings in museums became a focused interest during this series. I remembered the challenges of life-drawing classes in art school—how to put it all together, covered as it is with skin. The title the whole Marie was taken from the poem “last Tuesday.” Delacroix worried about sexually transmitted diseases and took chances with one of his favorite models, “the whole Marie.” Conflating Marie and the Virgin Mary (the metal figure of an heroic young woman mounted on the walls of the Los Angeles cathedral, Our Lady of the Angels) I also referenced my own mother whose name was Mary.

 

surprisingly enough other months have ides

beware the French valise

and does the god of war of (all things) deserve a month

then imagine when Tuesday is 13

a bag and rhymes with not wanting to

perhaps trash falls more equivalent like walking right hand

left foot the energy to take a big chance

and her and paint her carrying disease to be sure

like painting a painting our Marie is ancient

she may be gone for years haven’t seen her body on walls

bronze could be a first metal mined the whole Marie

of anything a sublimation ouch

asking for the sake of dwelling in chance

tin and copper chancey

 

“Paris Tuesday April 15,” on the other hand, ends with a joke and answers the question—what did the donkey say to the zebra?

 

stable this google question of equines

also asses to a zebra take off those pajamas

git in here