Friday, June 29, 2012

Conceptual Poetics / New Poetry and Librarians

One of my dear coworkers and fellow poet, Patrick Dunagan, recently said:
You know in recent years there's been this "movement" in [the] poetry world called flarf where they generate lines for entire poems using google.....
Yeah, I'm a stan for Google (just wait till I start getting fired up about Google Hangouts). Despite my concerns of privacy and anti-trust, I'm working on a new series of poems that use Google commands and operators as dual-purpose prompts and titles for poems.

Looks like one of the techy librarians, our very own Joe Garity, killed three birds with one stone: he learned how to make a video, constructed a conceptual poem, and exercised his mastery of the Google search engine, all of which resulted in this touching YouTube presentation:

If leaving is what you have to do to get a conceptual-poetry-google-video made for you, then I should leave more often! But seriously Joe, you're not making it any easier to leave my library family. *tear*

Monday, June 25, 2012

The Search for Alejandra Pizarnik

Vida, mi vida, déjate doler, mi vida, déjate enlazar de fuego, de silencio ingenuo, de piedras verdes en la casa de la noche, déjate caer y doler, mi vida.

• • • • • •

Life, life of mine, let yourself fall, let yourself suffer, life of mine, let yourself be bound with fire, with simple silence, with green stones in the house of the night, let yourself fall and suffer, life of mine.

from Tree of Diana by Alejandra Pizarnik, trans. Susan Bassnett

Left, an illustration of a common scrap that litters my surfaces: a Library of Congress call number scrawled on an old At-A-Glance calendar sheet. In this case, the call number leads to the book Exchanging Lives, in which English poet Susan Bassnett translates the work of Argentine poet Alejandra Pizarnik and offers us some collaboration poems, although Pizarnik died in 1972 and, I assume, Bassnett wrote her poems in the 90s and early 00s.

This thin tome came into my life in 2008 during the MFA in Writing course Poetry Internationale: my uncle had just died, I had turned 25 the day of the funeral, and I was trying to find the balance between the library life and the literary life while reaping the benefit of tuition remission. After the previous semester of "challenging" American Modern Poetry like Moore and Stevens and Pound, I thought: finally, a poet who frickin' gets that poetry is about the pain and intensity of life, not about sleight of hand and feats of reference virtuosity.

El poema que no digo,
el que no merezco.
Mierdo de ser dos
camino del espejo:
alguien en mí dormido
me come y me bebe.

• • • • • •

The poem I do not write,
the one I do not deserve.
Fear of being two
pathway in a mirror:
someone sleeping within me
eats me and drinks me.

I thought, Alejandra Pizarnik, where have you and your mental illness and your poetics been all my life! And even more important, why is Bassnett's excuse for translation the only coherent English offering we have?

The "library life" eclipsed the "literary life" then intersected: I ran relentless searches in Ignacio then Link+, first with Pizarnik as author, then keyword, then subject; I gathered all English translations I could find, then I gathered select originals. (Bibliography via RefWorks coming soon.) For my final project in Poetry Internationale, I translated 4 of her poems from Spanish to English, then I made a run of 10 books containing the translations.

Three years later Alejandra remained in my heart: 2011's National Poetry Month and Gleeson's trial of the EBSCO Discovery Service (EDS) prompted me to again run relentless searches of Pizarnik as author, as keyword, as subject. I renewed my interest in her poetry and the (English) scholarship on her, all while testing out the prowess of EDS. For Poem in Your Pocket Day I carried around the one immediately above. I relished reading it to my mom that evening, even though its bizarreness shocked her (just a little bit).

Natuurlijk you can look up her history: a woman between two worlds, like many Porteños from what I understand: her parents were Eastern European Jewish immigrants that raised their daughter in a suburb of Buenos Aires; she went to Paris for four seminal years; the one living within her finally ate her dead of barbiturates.

I am sure this was all percolating in my mind that morning I woke up determined to go to Buenos Aires and ride a freighter ship away from the Southern hemisphere, but a close friend was the one who made the connection; before he pointed it out, I just said "I always wanted to go there," when asked how I picked Buenos Aires as my starting point. So yes, Alejandra I am coming to your birthplace to find some trace of you, or to recognize some influence your environment had on you. But, here's the thing: the holy grail of research is not at Facultad de Filosofía y Letras (Universidad de Buenos Aires) or even The Sorbonne in Paris. Her papers and manuscripts are at Princeton's Firestone Library in New Jersey, U.S.A.

The thing that confuses me and will be the subject of future blog posts is why Princeton University houses her papers and manuscripts. As far as I know, she never visited the U.S. or had any connection with Princeton. This occurs to me--a library professional--as a microcosm of American privilege and imperialism. Luckily for my sense of injustice and for my interests, I am going through New York on my way to Buenos Aires so I can make a day trip to Princeton. Stay tuned for more musings on library/archives control of information, and what I hope to get out of the search for Alejandra.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012


Ultimately I will arrive in Amsterdam at the beginning of September to start my internship at the International Institute of Social History. Although Amsterdam and my internship were the initial seeds from whence the educational leave germinated, it feels like the planning of what comes before has consumed me more.

One Friday morning I started thinking about Buenos Aires while doing my shift at the Reference Desk (I will never know where these nuggets of future dreaming come from, but they most often visit me as I start coming up on my morning cup of coffee). Since the reflexes of information professionals are instilled in muscle memory, I automatically went to the online catalog and dropped various boolean keyword searches into the advanced search:

(buenos aires AND tour*)
((argentina OR buenos aires) AND (tour* OR travel*))

Thanks to my nearly 11 years of employment in Gleeson Library at USF, it's as if an Ignacio search is a more accurate litmus test of available information than a google search. (This will be a hard habit to break once Gleeson's holdings are no longer physically available to me.)

I ended up with a couple books, including Bad Times in Buenos Aires by Miranda France, which I had devoured by nightfall the following Saturday due to its easily ingested personal essay style. That night my dreams percolated Porteños and cargo sea vessels; Sunday I awoke with a new bizarre desire to connect Buenos Aires and Amsterdam by freighter route. Again, I conducted searches and examined maps by rote as I was coming up on my morning cup of coffee. It wasn't until later, answering people's questions and discussing the plans with friends, that I pieced together the disparate motivations that resulted in a an epic itinerary:

Alejandra Pizarnik, one of my favorite poets and a portion of whose work I have translated from Spanish to English, is Argentine and was born and raised in a suburb of Buenos Aires;

Entangled in the rungs of life's ladder, I had done preliminary research and developed a small obsession with oceanic travel when working on my MFA thesis in 2009. This poem comes to mind as evidence:
22: twenties wind up


to fully
change stream of
life shave head

and quit job i'll
banish headaches
fling my soul roof
tops above strange

cobblestone streets cross
atlantic freighter
mom left supplied for
housed or dead—scary
truthful provision

youth is
high gloss shell
without money
skills or discipline

kelci m. kelci © 2009

View Kelci's journey: part 1 in a larger map

Click Kelci's journey: part 1, above, to more easily track my route and gather information such as destinations and dates.

And so, a couple months ago, I set about the deeply preoccupying task of connecting Buenos Aires and Amsterdam by freighter route, whose triumphs and tribulations may be better served in a separate entry; suffice to say at this point I have purchased an itinerary for the Northbound journey on the Grande Buenos Aires, a freighter ship operated by Grimaldi Lines. I will board the ship on August 2, I will be at sea for approximately 28 days, and the ship is scheduled to visit the following ports between Buenos Aires, my point of embarkation, and Antwerp, my point of disembarkation:

Monday, June 11, 2012

Kelci in Motion

a tatty smooch stings
the talking chorus

kinetic baby
bathes in tahiti

glinting, pours zaffer

-- excerpt from "portrait of the muse as a young woman" by kelci m. kelci
In 8th grade my dad was helping me study for a science exam. When we came to kinetic on the vocab list, he suggested the following mnemonic device: kinetic: of, relating to, or resulting from motion: kelci in motion: kinetic kelci. 

Could he see into the future or was it a simple memory tool? 

I am about to set myself in motion, and it follows, according to Newton's laws, I will tend to stay in motion. 

It's not as simple as beginning to move to stay in motion: it's staying in motion to reach for the proverbial stars. The researcher masquerades as a book artist; the poet masquerades as an information professional; the full time employed masquerades as the vagabond. I hope each line of poetry I write, each archived manuscript I consult, each hand-printed page I bind, and each social history object I catalog brings me closer to the adult I imagined being when I was in 8th grade, that winter night I was studying for the science exam with my dad.