October 13, 2010

Sasha Pimentel Chacon ~ Acts of Resistance: Poetry, in Theme, in Form

What I’m Reading Today: Not much today.

For the last two days, I’ve been talking about last weekend, when I went to see three great writers on an annual event in Cheyenne called the Literary Connection. I’ve talked about Rick Bass and Robert Caisley, and today I’ll talk about Sasha Pimentel Chacon.

Sasha was born in the Philippines, but her family immigrated first to Saudi Arabia and then to New York when she was a kid. She moved with her future husband to El Paso, where she now lives and teaches. Sasha is short and elegant and comfortable-looking. She has lots of energy when she speaks, and her high and sometimes almost childlike voice is in direct opposition to the subjects in her poetry. Her living in El Paso creeps in too, as she sometimes follows her sentences with “Right?” like “Verdad?” Her rapid-fire delivery is wonderful and I found myself scrambling to keep up sometimes, but then she would approach the subject from another way and then I’d get it. Overlapping refrains. Very nice. In her work, she is fascinated with the body and with food and with borders. She evokes and juxtaposes images that are beyond moving, almost visceral at times.

During the two days, Sasha talked about Lorca’s poetic logic, how time and space are collapsed and we are lead by image and line. She said that a poem is a wrestling between what is said and what is unsaid. She referred to Lorca’s duende, or “the spirit of unpredictable passionate outpouring that speaks from beyond us” ~ night or blackness or death or that which flows underneath. Poems come from duende.

She talked about the physicality of poems and about the music and the felt. She used to walk around following her mother and repeating the same word over and over and over. Just the physicality of saying the words. She also talked about being young and discovering Anne Sexton’s poem “To My Lover, Returning to His Wife” on the internet and how that discovery transformed her and turned her to poetry.

She talked about how poems are grounded in image. You don’t tell a feeling; you show it through images. She used the example of the word "loneliness." A high school student, to portray loneliness, used the image of a marigold seed on a linoleum floor. All poetry, and all writing for that matter, should be based on image.

Then she talked about line. By that, she means a line of poetry and how the line breaks. Line is very important. If you break at a natural point in speech, such as at a period or comma or the end of a clause, you let the reader rest. But if you enjamb your lines, break at an unnatural place, you jolt the reader a little and urge them on and push them down the page.

She talked about a line of poetry that she particularly loves. It’s by one of her teachers. I didn’t write it down, so I can only explain it. If you read the sentences of the poem, it’s about Lot’s wife. The sentences describe the journey. But one line, read as a line instead of a sentence, goes like this:

Undone. Lot’s wife looked back at Sodom as she was

This has a totally different meaning and just rips your heart out. Reading as a line often gives a contrasting or ironic or oppositional reading. I wish I would have written down all of her wonderful examples.

Sasha loves how a poem can be read both vertically and horizontally. It’s the horizontal reading ~ something you can’t do in prose ~ that makes poetry so special and wonderful.

Poetry, she says, is about resistance. A poem has resistance built in. There’s the resistance of white space against the text. There’s the resistance of line vs. sentence. There’s the juxtaposition of images. There’s the tension of enjambment. What you don’t say is as important as what is said.

Questions of the Day: What does poetry bring to your writing? I know it’s helped me in mine. What's the difference between poetry and prose writing?


Dusti said...

Prose-the description of something, feeling, place, time, thing, idea. It is the physical act of putting these things to paper (or computer or whatever)so that the reader knows exactly what you are talking about.

Poetry-is the feeling, the place, the time, the idea. It is just putting yourself out there and letting the reader discover the meaning for themselves.

Tamara said...

Thanks for stopping by, Dusti!

I like your distinction that poetry is more open to interpretation. Poetry is more dense with meaning and more coded, and the more closely you read it, the more you can get out of it.

Are you a poet?

Anonymous said...

I love how Sasha loves to leave some things out...

Tamara said...

Yes! I love her gaps and her lines of resistance!