Sleep and Poetry

Anastasios Karnazes

I want to introduce Sleep and Poetry by making some attempt at an account of its circumstances, but find it is already past the time of my brain's capabilities at this hour, 10:00 pm. Perhaps I will instead retire, leaving this draft open to take back on the task tomorrow morning after a good night's rest. 

My mind has been quite distracted and without focus lately. I could ascribe some reasons for these symptoms, but prefer to try and linger with them. As if there was something behind distraction and dislocated attention, though I've yet to uncover any kind of firm ground. No rhyme to the noise. My desire or hope for this something beyond remains, similar to my interest in content. I spend more time watching Instagram reels than I do reading, and this is in some ways my intention, though I cannot say it is without compulsion, and it may be a rationalization for my inability to sit with a book... In any case, after several months of only being self-conscious of my own algorithm, wondering what the curated stream of reels is reflecting back to me about myself, I've finally been able to adjust and distort it for better or worse. I find this kind of reading experience extremely soothing, though the tension between my desire to view anything that captures my attention and my idea of curating my own algorithm keeps me somewhat unsettled. Sometimes I cannot view a reel for as long as I want, because I know the algorithmic ramifications. At first I understand this reaction as paranoia, but then I notice this kind of cleansing and purpose or direction is also a form of meditation. Anyways, more after a night of that dreadful thing "sleep" !

Ah, there you are. I've just arrived back from a quick run to Stewarts. Are you familiar? Great. I have some funny associations with them from my first year of college in Boston, but that must be another story for another time. Trying out their maple something coffee today. The aroma was incredible, but I can't really taste the flavor in the drink. Oh well. This morning right after waking up I started a ritual of spending a few minutes out in the cold with just my pants and a shirt. I could hear a garage door open somewhere in an alley. And some natural birds. I became alert immediately in my body feeling the cold air interrupt my limbs and organs.

So I intend to write about this multivalent sense of exhaustion that makes its way into my writing, or rather that I noticed recently as a central figure for my writing. I will begin with a biographical tracing of the concept's entrance into my work and then move into the larger structures and associations I see it with in connection. 

At the outset, it is important to say that there is something to the fact that this poetic exhaustion I am talking around is firstly a physical one... It is felt and acted upon in the background of my writing, whether I recognize it in the moment or not. I remember feeling a switch happen when I wrote a particular poem, now just called "Spring." It is a fairly simple poem which has a signature kind of repetition and abstraction I feel remains a kind of center for my work now. What is important though is that this was the first poem that felt completely as if my own style and I remember my Mentor remarking on this in his notes. It was an arrival of a style which took its own relationship to its situation as writing as a primary directive. And around that moment, if not simultaneously, reading (at least reading poetry) became a way of distinguishing this new writing from the writing I was reading. Inspiration and division were one in the same. If I liked reading some book, it became something to jump away from, and I tried to imagine my own style as a process of digestion or like a processing plant, eating up the writing I like and developing it further or tracing it somehow in my own style. This process of development on the whole wasn't too linear, as there were certainly several stages wherein my writing would lapse into a kind of memoiristic thing, or prosey theorizing, but the bare formal impetus for differentiating and developing largely remained. I find now that my writing is more or less stable, there are tracks moving forward that relate to what's come before, and a direction has emerged that feels my own. But reading poetry is almost impossible now. I find myself tracking stylistic and formal elements, comparing the poetry to the poetry I have read prior and situating it instead of immersing myself in the writing. On first recognizing this, I felt bad, as if I rendered literary art into a data set or network. I no longer know what any poetry book is talking about anymore! 

But I am learning now to relate to this algorithmic mode of reading more openly, as if it gives way to clearly seeing another, larger impasse. That impasse would be of stylistic or aesthetic exhaustion. Aesthetic exhaustion because 1) all poems have already been written, or at least were implied by the writing of earlier poems, 2) it is physically exhausting to read with differentiation of one's own style or aesthetic in mind, like the constant self-referencing renders the reading a chore of measure. It is important to note that this feeling is not strictly contemporary, but can be linked to any Moment of Written Poetry. Nevertheless, both of these exhaustions brought me to develop the 11-13 justified syllabic form, something I know is too stupid for it to have precedence, and necessitating a specific type of word choice that I thought I would end up with phrasings which were relatively new. To my demise, I am still in some way relying on a couplet structure, but with secondary rules for variation in margin I feel comfortable with. The form is wholly digital, i.e. impossible to reproduce using pen and paper, as it relies on particular font size, pixel distance, software implementation, as well as a mindful counting of syllables in negotiation with the visual feedback of line-length. The formal basis for the poetry feels fresh.

So a secondary problem of exhaustion emerges, I have the form, but there still remains nothing to write about. Some newer formally interested poetry solves this problem by allowing the writing to be itself the life of the writing it writes about. It unveils the drama of the letter and of the word that is supposedly outside the human, as if the words themselves were begging to be arranged and played out in such and such a way. Some love to muddle this trend with "ecopoetics" but it is more properly described as a return to nature poetry through Concrete Empirical Goggles. Either way, I do not have that at my disposal for whatever reason. I feel stuck to some kind of narrative or lyrical energy. The confluence of which generates a very noisy result. 

Because of this noise, another exhaustion on the side of reading emerges when I imagine someone trying to read the long poem, however I believe this works in my favor, since the kind of reader experience I desire is a speedy or hasty one. To skim it rather than linger in it for too long. The exhaustion it would take to really immerse oneself in the poem is too great, so the reader is pushed into a fast reading, as if flipping through content. If I no longer know what poetry is talking about, then why not lean in. So I am back at the original problem which is to try and understand why this bifurcation between art and content persists, why am I drawn more to content, and why does there seem to be nothing outside of the flood of content, even though there is the feeling there must be some epiphany behind it? Is it more exhausting to scroll content than read a poem, long term? With poetry having been exhausted along with reading itself more generally as a writer who is stuck in loops of processing, why is the only thing I can write something which is totally exhausting to formalize, write, and read?

Poetry is played out. This is not a criticism but merely a starting point for taking account of the background that opens onto any experience of writing a poem. If the historians and archeologists are right that oral traditions of poetry and poetic forms predate their being written down, then there could be the argument that poetry was played out from the moment it was first written down. But there is a more tangible sense of poetry being played out that I am trying to get at here.

What interrupts, as it always tends to, these psychical and cultural or aesthetic impasses is the fact of the materially-based exhaustiveness of this writing. I want to reiterate the possibility that this literary exhaustion arises simultaneously with the recognition of resource exhaustion in the very production and dissemination of the literature. Why is it that trees are the symbol of environmental consciousness when they are also the very real material basis for the dissemination of Enlightenment climate awareness? Where does this place the screen and its conditionals? I am noticing that it has taken the movement from the paper-based to screen-based form for me to appreciate this. But the primary genre of screen-based writing is content, which slips and sleeps on the reality of the situation, flooding dopamine into the brain and washing it clean of analytical potential. So this new poem is also an effort to develop a screen-based writing which gets imported back into the paper-based medium, in hopes that a more longstanding commitment to the present will retain. 

Calling poetry out for being played out might place too much power onto the writers or poetry, so another way to phrase it is to say that poetry now has a tangible and multiple sense of exhaustion. This exhaustion is a physical experience. When I sit down to write or collect and assemble notes towards the writing of the poem, commit to the scene of writing the time, I notice an increasing sense of exhaustion in facing the task. Exhaustion as in tending towards sleep but also exhaustion as in the possibilities of ways onward in the scene of poetry writing have been depleted, there is little poetry left to frack.