Carrie Olivia Adams
Carrie Olivia Adams delves into a space defined by air and sky, each movement another scene of a movie re-filmed many times over. Intervening Absence, a series of sequences that question silence and interaction (and which both stand alone and themselves interact), is a work of strong architectural integrity populated by speakers whose vulnerability is extreme. Adams writes, “The poems wait, lie still. The poems creep and jump forward. The poems tense and relax their muscles. They interact with the unseen, the wished for, and the undeniably present. I can only hope that in their whispers to you they intervene.” These poems calmly announce a realm of interrupted conversations with the self as moving pictures projected on parlor walls, where Adams engages the idea of pause and distance.
from Notes toward a Short Film
The conversation should be on the balcony.
But the camera is inside the room.
We witness it only through the glass panes of the door.
The lighting crisp. The sky as if about to crack.
We are not watching faces, but his shirt flaps blowing.
He looks away from the camera and over the balcony railing.
Though facing him, she will tell him without ever looking up.
But maybe this is a silent film.
And all that could be told will be spoken
by her hand as it repetitively traces the inside
of her forearm. Maybe we see
only her fingers.
Copyright 2009 by Carrie Olivia Adams
I was born the only child of a fireman and a school teacher in Staten Island, New York in 1979. Having no other siblings and being very much shy of the world beyond my driveway, I began to cultivate the habits that sustain me today—spying out windows, chatting to myself aloud, and imagining myself interacting with the characters in books I read—not becoming them, but writing myself into the story. It was a very social world of one.
At the age of eleven, I was packed into a car and moved across the Appalachian Mountains and below the Mason-Dixon Line to a 60-acre farm in Kentucky, where I lived through high school. My driveway alone was now longer than two city blocks. I tried very hard. I wore cowboy boots. I learned to ride horses. One summer, my mother and I bottle-fed Holstein calves and sold them in the fall at the stockyard. But meanwhile, in the seventh grade, I memorized Whitman, Poe, whatever I uncovered in old teaching books of my mother’s. But thinking that they were indicative of how poetry should be and knowing the cadence of my own thoughts, I decided at first that I could not write poems, so I simply read and recited in great quantity. Later, I devoured Hemingway and began to wonder how one makes a life as a writer. He was a journalist, I read; so I was editor of the high school newspaper and a columnist for the city paper. And in that earnest teenage way, the summer I was 16 I declared I was going to be a poet. I must have been aware of how foolish that sounded, for I wrote a chapbook that summer entitled “Starry-Eyed Girl.”
Nonetheless, I entered college determined to find a way to support myself as poet, even though for several years I wrote very few poems and focused on literary scholarship rather than writing. I earned a degree in English and Comparative Literature from the University of Georgia. While living on my own in my proud studio with only one window and having to support myself through college, practicalities led me to my vocation in publishing—I began as an intern at The Georgia Review and then worked for the University of Georgia Press. Today, I work for the University of Chicago Press and serve as Poetry Editor for the independent literary press Black Ocean. Along the way, I earned an MFA from Vermont College, and it was during my time as a student in that program that the majority of the poems in Intervening Absence were conceived.
As a result, there is not a day that is not bound up in books somehow, though this only child still finds herself spying out plenty of windows—office windows, train windows, bus windows. When I am not playing voyeur, I might be cooking, watching baseball (thanks to many fond memories taking batting practice with my Dad in the backyard), sipping a well-made Manhattan, or watching a film I wish I had made.
Susan Howe asks in The Birth-Mark, “Is a poetics of intervening absence an oxymoron?” It would be wrong to say that these poems were written as a response to her question, for the majority were already breathing when I came across it while writing my master’s thesis, an extremely flawed, but earnest, conversation between myself, Howe, and Maurice Blanchot. Instead, it seemed an inquiry from a sympathetic space. The same vibrating flux of knowledge and denial. Of touch and ether. Of voyeuristic empathy. Research and method. Of resigned impatience.
I have a visual handicap. There are those who rotate objects in their mind. I cannot picture my kitchen table. Or any table. If I tried I might see the curve of the leg. I might see the grain of the wood. Or even just a knot in its grain. But I could not hold the picture still. My mind flickers so. From this, comes a hands-on precision. There were years when I dreamed only in words.
I cannot write without speaking aloud. Even now, I have recited the above paragraphs four times to myself, making edits here and there as I go. This is inconvenient and embarrassing in the office, though co-workers adjust. But for poems, it means they are a conversation, or a prayer, or a letter. They are addressed to you. And I know exactly how they feel on my tongue and chatter across the drum of my ear.
I fear their tiny spaces might appear solipsistic. But I do not know how to explain that the poems began somewhere outside. The faces of the immigrant workers in the back of a pick-up truck one night on my commute home in Georgia. The woman with the stroller at the subway station whom I saw cry nearly every weekend in the winter when the air was thick with the smell of chocolate from the factory. I think of Heidegger: “In the age of the world’s night, the abyss of the world must be experienced and endured.” Though I cannot count myself in the ranks of Heidegger’s ideal like Hölderlin, the speaker in these poems originates in that night, searching for a way to see in the darkness.
I fear I could tell you the things I love and you might look to find but never find them in the poems. You would likely not see how my fascination with a scene in The Graduate—where Mrs. Robinson is rain-soaked and dark and captured in great contrast against a very white hallway wall—might become a shadow or an angle of an image or a mood. I love reference books. I have been known to linger over the dictionary taking notes. I get excited in butcher shops when I hold that paper-wrapped parcel of veal shanks in my hand. There is a mysterious process of condensation—a gathering of observation, sensation, even supposed fact.