memory noise

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Memory
Nina Cassian
An overcrowded territory
filled with clash of felines
with violent epidemics —
like an assault and battery of orchestras,
deafening my present tense;
squeaking drawers
holding piles of sorrows, thin stingy files of joys…

I wish
I could exhume myself from this noise.

Photo by Eric Parks on Unsplash

a proofreader’s song

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Knowledge
-Nina Cassian
I’ve stitched my dress with continents,
bound the equator round my waist.
I waltz to a steady rhythm, bending slightly.

I can’t stop my arms
plunging into galaxies,
gloved to elbows in adhesive gold:
I carry on my arms a star’s vaccine.

With such greedy sight
my eyelids flutter in the breeze
like a strange enthusiastic plant.

No one fears me
except Error,
who is everywhere.

Photo by Muneeb Syed on Unsplash

the murmur of confused time

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After all, it’s all in – and given away by – the vowels.

Vowel
Nina Cassian
A clean vowel
in my morning,
Latin pronunciation
in the murmur of confused time.
With rational syllables
I’m trying to clear the occult mind
and promiscuous violence.
My linguistic protest
has no power:
The enemy is illiterate.

Photo by Bogdan Dada on Unsplash

Epiglottis

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Banter, repartee and conversation with a linguist distinguishes itself from almost all other exchanges because of its speed – both in terms of the flow and the pace of topic change. Nothing said has a single meaning. Everything has multiple meanings, which makes the exchanges all the richer – things to mull over long after the brisk conversation ends.

Beyond the aphrodisiac of constant metaphor, your wordplay will be enlivened with terms like “velaric fricative” and words like “epiglottis”.

I love this, as someone who dreamt of but abandoned the dream of being a linguist many years ago. I also love how one single word – like epiglottis – sets me off on some entirely different tangent. In this case, right back to my favorite thing: poetry.

So… Romanian poet Nina Cassian. She died in 2014. Did I even know she died? (As a complete digression: When I originally jotted down this question of doubt and walked away, I came back and thought it read, “Did she know she died?” Are we aware when we die that we have died? I start to wonder sometimes about what we see or experience. So many stories I hear about near-death or about being with someone as they shed this mortal coil lead me to think we meet already-passed loved ones in those last moments, in the in-between world between here and hereafter – whatever that hereafter is, even if it is infinite nothingness.)

Nina Cassian – a discovery I made in high school. Poetry that now feels overwrought and overdone, indelicate and “blocky” (I don’t even have a word that adequately conveys what I mean by “blocky” as the dictionary definition of “blocky” isn’t right). I don’t care for Cassian’s style now, but it provided a kind of shock value at the time, which was enough credibility for me. Hers was a voice, despite not being popular or apparently well-liked by most Romanians I have known, from a mysterious but newly open place. Every Cassian reference I made to Romanians was met with a “You should be reading Eminescu”. I did, but it did not fill the need I had at that moment.

Me, I am partial to Marin Sorescu but at the time of finding Cassian, I wanted to find women poets exclusively – not men, and not pre-20th century – from eastern, southern and central Europe. Cassian qualified. She satisfied my need at the time to explore the limited perspectives of life in specific countries through a female’s eyes.

Incidentally, it also contributed to my efforts to supply my brother and his friends with poems that would shock or offend teachers who never wanted to hear words like ‘orgasm’, ‘clitoris’ or, worst of all – ‘cunt’ (see also: Heather McHugh, Marge Piercy). They could not deny the legitimacy of a word like ‘cunt’ when it was wielded by these women writers and often by champions of feminism.

But yes, Cassian. Epiglottis –> Glottis.

Cassian’s work deals frequently with language and the self/identity divided by language or the identity language confers, and it is within these poems that I sensed her greatest strengths. Other works on other themes seemed weaker:

Language
My tongue — forked like snake’s
but without deadly intentions:
just a bilingual hissing.

Or

Vowel
A clean vowel
in my morning,
Latin pronunciation
in the murmur of confused time.
With rational syllables
I’m trying to clear the occult mind
and promiscuous violence.
My linguistic protest
has no power:
The enemy is illiterate.

And finally, the pièce de résistance, the poem that actually came to mind as “epiglottis” flapped its way casually into discussion, “Licentiousness”, which naturally was on the penultimate page I searched (after looking through hundreds of pages of disorganized collected poetry)…

Licentiousness
Letters fall from my words
as teeth might fall from my mouth.
Lisping? Stammering? Mumbling?
Or the last silence?
Please God take pity
On the roof of my mouth,
On my tongue,
On my glottis,
On the clitoris in my throat
vibrating, sensitive, pulsating,
exploding in the orgasm of Romanian.

Mistaking Sad for Mad: Desperado

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If someone repeats the same kind of non-action annoyance almost every day and knows it is an “apologizable offense” – why is it that they keep repeating it? Habit? Don’t know they are doing it? Don’t recognize how damaging it is?

Disappointment is a funny thing – you can build up hopes for something without even realizing you have created or are relying on expectations. Even when you know better than to expect anything. And it can be for the littlest, funniest stuff. The hurt one feels after any of these slights/disappointments is often misinterpreted as anger. But anger and hurt are different aspects of the same kind of emotion.

Life (and the interactions I have in it) seems to be on an unending loop of “all talk, no action” incursions. “The enemy is illiterate.”

Vowel
Nina Cassian (Romania)

A clean vowel
in my morning
Latin pronunciation
in the murmur of confused time.
With rational syllables
I’m trying to clear the occult mind
and promiscuous violence.
My linguistic protest
has no power.
The enemy is illiterate.

There come moments when poetry has all the perfect lines to describe what I feel.

My annoyance at someone deciding that playing The Eagles at a housewarming party is welcoming and relaxing is at an all-time high. “Desperado” – Don Henley – kiss my ass. I never had such vitriolic hatred for The Eagles in my early life, but sometime in junior high, spending weekends with my then-best friend Terra, we wanted MTV to show things we actually liked, but the channel tended to repeat Don Henley Unplugged – a lot. It seemed every time we turned on the TV, we turned it on right when there was a close-up of Henley’s aged face, singing with his eyes closed, straining to release his solo version of “Desperado” – much to our teenage dismay.

As if I needed more reasons and reminders as to why I steer clear of parties.

Don’t make promises you can’t keep, people.

“You’re a hard one, but I know that you got your reasons/these things that are pleasin’ you, can hurt you somehow.”

No value added: Corporate tongues run amok

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“…With rational syllables
I’m trying to clear the occult mind
and promiscuous violence.
My linguistic protest
has no power.
The enemy is illiterate.”
from “Vowel” – Nina Cassian (Romania)

Earlier today it felt as though the word “value” had jumped up and slapped me in the face. Thinking of all the overused applications of “value” (particularly “value chain” and “value proposition”), it has lost all meaning. And, once I posted something on Twitter about banishing this word from my vocabulary, someone else pointed out that there is no value added by value-added tax. Not for the one paying it, anyway. “How can we add value?” This question, triggering such irritation, is packed with no meaning. What do these things even mean anymore?

“Managers” (so appointed but not necessarily qualified) seem to be among the worst communicators I know. On a very surface level, I deal frequently with managers and directors who are non-native English speakers; there is some awkwardness to be expected then. Fine. What gets dicey though is how all managers of all nationalities turn into corporate cheerleader automatons – newspeak anyone? – in all the same ways. Incessant talk about value chains, low-hanging fruit and a lot of the lingo that has trickled down in large part from the management consulting industry triggers something in me. Hearing it, it immediately makes me think the person doing the talking has no idea what he is talking about. He needs these mutually understood (in this business community) BS words and expressions to obscure the fact that he really has nothing at all to say. Everyone must know it but everyone accepts it. To go outside of the confines of newspeak, to say in plain language exactly what is going on, would be a thought crime.

This wholesale adoption of meaningless language lacks precision.  All this “marketingspeak” could be reduced to just a few simple words that everyone could understand… simplify. Yet, these manager types (in fairness, not all of them are on this sinking ship) would lose some kind of self-importance and peer credibility if they suddenly started speaking straight English. In one previous job, a manager reviewed a paper I had written and had no problems with it but tried to get me to add in a list of his most beloved expressions because he felt sure it would help get other people to take it more seriously. Yes, adding “tipping point” and “crossing the chasm” and other such absurdity (he literally included a list of six or seven “additions”, which I ignored) will bolster the integrity of a data-driven case study?

I don’t know what it says about me, but it seems that I can only find real meaning in words like “value” and “strategy” in direct applications, such as “strategy” as it pertains to the a military operation and “value” as it pertains to something tangible like a “high-value asset” in the intelligence community. It is clear exactly what a strategy is in the military. It is not this vague, unclear, half-baked idea (well, it might be, actually, considering how modern militaries and warfare are going) – but in theory, it makes total sense. And value in a recruited intelligence asset is equally clear – you want information that the asset is in a unique position to obtain. End of story. In a business setting, especially when you unleash a whole unruly homeless dog shelter on it and let the mutts tinker with “strategy” and determine “value”, you are asking for it.

Layers of fluff and meaninglessness are my biggest conflicts with corporate life. I will not obfuscate the facts to comfort people who cannot let go of the pretense and poppycock of devaluing real language.