Academy of American Poets Notable Book of 2010
Sandra Doller’s tricky, sly language comes at you sideways, full of coinages and puns, and is obsessed with lines: the highways and train tracks that cross deserts; lines from jokes and ghost stories; and lines of influence—Gertrude Stein implicitly and H.D. explicitly. Doller is not concerned with the complete or the perfect: she shows us the torn edge of notebook paper, “the american wastrel” in a yellow dress, and characters who plead, in a reversal of Goethe’s last words, for “no more light.”
“Intrepid Sandra Doller takes a train (hitchhikes) through the (mined) (mind of the) world, armed only with a spare language (think child’s primer, Gertrude Stein, ballads, pillow talk). Quick hits and shifts, the eye blinks and a different vista appears just as mysteriously as it hightails it into another landscape of the discontinuous present. Eros infuses the ordinary, makes it ‘wake up in make up.’ Sing song memories drift in and out. It’s about living a sensual life (mind) in prickly America. The music is as sharp as a knife pressed tenderly against the sun’s throat, as sweet and no-nonsense tough as the ‘core body of the girl with a yellow dress on . . . ’” —John Yau
“Chora plays synaesthetic musics, grows margins of vines. Her lines bring forth notes, an exacting, disjunct polyphonics, new music from out ‘silence.’ A how-to book of having hands, eyes, mind, a breathing body. Read aloud, a spirit level. It makes me want to know you.”—Lee Ann Brown
He Works for a Smithy.
he works for a smithy
where did you get that hammer
i need a lot of help
he’s the one who customizes
can you help me a bit
on my game
i’m a little bit
the mist that sits there
i have no idea
i didn’t see the fence
the bad bad guy
you do not mind his argument
a squirrel that follows
this was short
do not sight the Alps
do not leave your house
had i a way
i’m just happy we killed a ghost
and then what
why do you have to have to
& what is the adjective of lamb?
for the sun
i had a curfew
we go west
tonight they will loudly
green is the color
yellow is the color
blue is the color
‘I m about everything.’
‘Don’t you envy me?’
nothing out there in the grass
didn’t tumble her
Copyright © 2010 by Sandra Doller.
I share a birthday with Shelley Duvall and Ringo Starr and was born in Washington, D.C., about a month before Nixon resigned in the same town. More coincidences as follow: My father is a Republican; I love The Beatles and Yoko, Popeye and olive oil. Both of my grandfathers were Golden Gloves Champs; I have a fight to pick sometimes. One grandfather I met, the one who grew up a few miles from the Western New York hometown of my husband, who I also met, but much later, in Iowa. The other grandfather was born a day before me, but in the nineteenth century, also in New York, but in the city. One grandmother was French and Canadian from Quebec. I heart les commie fries and a Molson. The other grandmother was born in Missoula in 1903 where she played the cello for silent films in her family band. I drove through Missoula once and saw the “M” on a hill, played the cello as a kid, studied silent film for my Master’s degree, and am editrice of a magazine called 1913. The same grandmother was one of many sisters, and she grew up in Seattle. I finished college at the University of Washington in Seattle as a Women’s Studies major; I am the youngest of eight siblings, depending on how you count. And most of us are women.
I lived in Virginia for seventeen years near a National Park. Then Kailua, Amherst, Seattle, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Ljubljana, Ocean Grove, Iowa City, Canandaigua, Granville, and back to Virginia. But this time Roanoke. Then San Diego and Denver and Encinitas and now nowhere. I live and have lived and will live with my man, Ben Doller. I have visited Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, France, Spain, Italy, Germany, England, Austria, Russia (via train from Germany, so I crossed through Poland and saw it out the window and was detained & interrogated in Belarus), Finland, Croatia, Estonia, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and I’ve driven across the west-east stretch of Canada. I have been to every U.S. state except Alaska. I like locomotion.
I have had the sorts of jobs writers & artists & vagabonds have: I was a dishwasher, a temp, a secretary, a waitress at Po’ Folks, an au pair, a baker, a barista, a cocktail waitress with a distaste for crowds and Mardi Gras. I was a maid on a motel on a boat. I wrote ad copy for a guy called Amp Man. I was a wedding bartender, a dancer, a substitute teacher, a photographer’s dark room assistant, a slang tutor. I taught subjects I didn’t know very well and coordinated internships for disadvantaged students in D.C. I taught college material to gifted & talented junior high kids. I tutored ESL and encouraged idiosyncrasy. I studied Russian and Ancient Greek and Labanotation. All have shocking alphabets. I studied theory, cultural studies, physics, anthropology, and Scandinavian Women’s Literature. Not English. I studied theater & dance, wrote plays, did performance. Sometimes with text. I write texts now, sometimes with performance.
I love Harryette Mullen, Laurie Anderson, Yoko Ono. Wallace Stevens, Lorine Niedecker, Oppen not Zukofsky. Mary Oppen. Williams and Ceravolo and Stein. I once loved an Auden poem because someone read it to me. Ben Doller. The Black Keys and The Dirt Bombs and The Knitters. Rae Armantrout and Fanny Howe. Anyone I publish, my many students, my few friends. Ronald Johnson and Kiki Smith. My dogs Ronald Johnson & Kiki Smith. I have bits of Keats and Chaucer and Dickinson memorized. I once memorized an entire John Ford play. Committed Sam Shepard and Maria Irene Fornes. Dickinson on envelopes. I am thinking about how everything is an essay. I read what I am teaching. I teach John Keene, Claudia Rankine, Jerome Rothenberg’s compilations, Yelp, Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, Leslie Scalapino, Walter Murch with Michael Ondaatje, Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge, the Archive for New Poetry, My Life, Ubu Web, the Waldrops & Burning Deck. I teach some online. I teach too much. I write on trains and on vacation.
I am the founder & editor of the arts mag 1913 a journal of forms; with 1913 Press I also publish books, mostly collaborative or visual books. I conceived the idea for the magazine during my MA at University of Chicago: everything I had studied (film, lit, art, book arts, futurist fashion, dance, linguistics, translation, performance) somehow congealed in the year 1913. I couldn’t get over it. I kept the idea until later in Iowa after my MFA I started the mag, with all forms congealing in it. I publish it slowly but surely. The third beautiful issue has recently appeared at long last.
I try to translate. I just finished another poetry manuscript called Man Years and am working on a prose collection entitled either Color Me Sandra or What I Got or both. It is probably not fiction.
“Conceive a space filled with moving,” Gertrude Stein wrote of the American West.
Chora is a locomotive text. It was conceived on a train. A 50-plus hour train trip from Iowa to Oakland. And back. Over 100 hours on a train. Plus an 8-hour delay at Donner’s Pass, with a less cannibalist outcome. I was en route to a wedding. And back. I missed my man. I read books. I filled three notebooks with scribbling. A year later, after my own wedding, I re-opened them. And Chora came out moving, locomoting, puling.
“ . . . but I hate being moving. If you want to feel, go to the movies, because poetry has no intention of being moving; it is perhaps one of the few things left in America that is not moving.”—Stein, “In English in a Poem”
Then there were my Quaker meeting notes, taken right after the meetings. Many pages of notes, fifty pages or more, boiled down to the size of screens. Mini movie screens. Quaker meeting is sitting waiting meeting, still collective silence. Not moving. Or movement where every movement gets its notice. Thought merely circulates around the room. Pacifist movement & non-movement & the war.
Julia Kristeva defines the chora as “a nonexpressive totality formed by the drives and their stases in a motility that is as full of movement as it is regulated. . . . We differentiate this uncertain and indeterminate articulation from a disposition that already depends on representation, lends itself to phenomenological, spatial intuition, and gives rise to a geometry. Although our theoretical description of the chora is itself part of the discourse of representation that offers it as evidence, the chora, as rupture and articulations (rhythm), precedes evidence, verisimilitude, spatiality, and temporality. Our discourse—all discourse—moves with and against the chora in the sense that it simultaneously depends upon and refuses it. Although the chora can be designated and regulated, it can never be definitively posited: as a result, one can situate the chora and, if necessary, lend it a topology, but one can never give it axiomatic form.”
Then there’s that. Pre-symbolic, spatial, sonic possibility. Rooms, poems, phantom-rides through. Before we ever said & got said. Drawn, scratched, pushed around. Non-semantic sound = poetry. Locomoting solid rooms with windows = the train. Not stanzas. Idealized vs. realized = the perfect failure of the Sistine Chapel. A vision expressed in oils. A pre-linguistic state expressed in language. The failure of the real.
There’s also a series of “line” poems. A poet I published sent me a new poem about new lines painted in the road. The poet invited me to rewrite the poem as my own, which I did several times in series, with less and less attention to the “original.” The absence & presence of line on road, signature on poem, thought scoring space. On the page. In lines.
Chora is a locomotive text. The poems are spinal tracks, not in lines but as lines themselves. Follow the lines across the land, an invitation.
The word “chora” (as opposed to the “term” for either Plato or Kristeva) is a feminine Greek noun meaning “country.” Or “the space lying between two places or limits.” Or “land which is ploughed or cultivated, ground.” To move between them, fill the space with moving. Move to the American West. Move to the movies. Sit. Move.