E.E. NOBBS Engages
Paper Craft by Catherine Daly
archived on-line at Penn Sound
In Paper Craft you get instructions and templates for making 3-D objects using paper from the book itself – objects such as the left wing of an airplane and a rose. Though of course, there’s more …
As Amazon.com explains, Paper Craft is “experimental poetry by Catherine Daly; the title comes from the fact that ‘actual patterns for folding and cutting paper literally underwrite some of the poems.’ "
Because I like to read book acknowledgements and notes, I found out that these poem-objects have been made, performed and read out at live events – which strikes me as a great way to have fun and get group participation. Daly takes seriously the matter of play and using words to make things. She ends Paper Cuts with this gentle challenge – “I invite you to make your own paper fortune tellers, flowers, hats, etc. out of printed pages and transfer the resulting poems to paper.”
Appropriately the cover artwork for Paper Craft was made by Daly herself. It is a series of nine colour abstract images (the originals are nail polish on watercolour paper). She’s titled the artwork “Natural Beauty”, which for me is playfully (and seriously) ironic, and seems to ask the reader to consider how the natural look, the make-up business, etc. has affected how men and other women view women, including themselves. And it also leaves me wondering where the 10th painted finger (or toe) is …
There are many different forms of poems in this full collection (163 pages) – often old forms done in new ways. The opening poem is a 2 1/8-page list poem called “Aisles”, which (as explained in the back-of-the book notes) “consists of items listed on the grocery store aisle signs of the Stater Bros. in Yucca Valley, CA, in 2001”. The lists are in two columns and tercets – so you can “see” the aisles and the shelves. And my reaction is – “I wish I’d thought of doing that!” The first two pages are ordinary, generic food items. The last few entries are like a slice of life’s miscellanea, but with a twist to awareness – of how strange and even potentially dangerous these objects and their uses could be – especially when side by side:
picnic supplies light bulbs,
pool supplies insecticides,
entrees panty hose
dinners sewing notions
There’s a series of clever concrete poems (Fireworks, Catherine wheel, Lamps), which I enjoyed very much – they multi-task because are also full of sound, motion and light.
“Fireworks” has 2 sections. The first (ominously called “missile”, and indeed the epigraph includes two lines from the “Star Spangled Banner” – the lines about rockets and bombs) gives us the multi-sensory experience of loud fireworks. You can hear and see them in your mind – though the poem begs also to be read out loud. Even more breathtaking and startling is how Daly balances the first section with the second – the beautiful and much quieter “dancing butterflies”. We’re left to compare and contrast the two kinds of in-the-air events. Both sections of this concrete poem are on one page, so can be seen together. Here’s the second part of “Fireworks”:
scup scup dop
skip hop dopskip whirrr skip
fip scip skip
stip hop bop
There’s a wide variety of poems in this collection – some long, some short, some somewhat interpretable in a literal sense, some not or hardly; and I concluded (which was confirmed by the poet’s notes at the back) that she uses appropriation, found material cut-ups, rearranging and collages. The notes do specify several of the source materials, though she doesn’t go into detail about her actual procedures – if she uses self-imposed rules/ constraints, for example. The sources are wonderfully wide and varied – which fits with the general feeling of energy, awareness, experimentation and openness that I get from the book – and that life is an adventure, and our chance to create …
Daly has published lots of books, and I was curious to find out more about her. I found a 2-part podcast produced by LA-Lit in 2007, and now archived on the excellent and huge PennSound site.
I’m including here some highlights from the podcast (and my apologies if I’ve mis-transcribed or misunderstood):
Turns out that Daly was a music DJ in college (and that’s also when she started writing), and so was very well acquainted with mash-ups and remixing. She feels these techniques can also be well-suited for poetry, though they have been under-utilized.
She’s interested in making “bright shiny” new things from subjects she’s interested in, things that she knows about and/or things that may otherwise tend to get overlooked. And because the building material is language, she stresses that you have to pay close attention to how you use words and letters on the page. She wants to find ways to get sound out of letters from a page – that “trick” of reading it and getting the same sounds as she, the poet, hears.
The source materials she uses to influence her poems is important to her – finding female writing, published or non-published has been one of her major ongoing projects. I was glad to hear that she feels strongly that the poet needs to own their own poem and process for making it – and not wait for (or depend on) someone else to tell them what it means, or if it has value. This feels empowering to me – a reminder that we have a choice on how we perceive what we make as poets.
She says she’s not that interested in meter. She’s told her students (laughingly) that she’s a bit tone deaf , and because she has a heart murmur her heartbeat is NOT in iambic pentameter! She took many years of formal music lessons though she never felt that she “got it”. But playing with sound is important to her. She uses a lot of alliteration and rhyme though
she does NOT try to consciously figure out “what rhymes with ‘potato’” It’s a treat on the podcast to hear her read her poems. She performs her poems with expressiveness, and the musicality comes across strongly.
The “Toy Boat” section is “indebted to Gray’s Anatomy”. Here’s an example – a short poem full of music and appreciation of the body and the senses, and to openness. I like the repetitions of both vowel and consonant sounds, and the rhythm.
Cartilage is celluloid, mucilage, or glue: it keeps openings open, which
is their nature. The most beautiful, the ear, rings it not a wing nor a
collar, stoa, open.
In the podcast, Daly says she took religious studies with a major in the mystics at college. She tells how women brought to trial during the Inquisition were required to defend themselves. They could only speak in the vernacular because they had not been taught Latin. The women felt that because they were not educated, anything they said would be wrong – even if it was their own lived experiences. But there was a woman who took the opportunity to say whatever she wanted … even though she knew she was a heretic and would die. Daly was glad she did. (On a much different scale of life-or-death, I can relate to the feeling of not having the right words and literary education to write a “proper” review.)
Daly talks about how the mystical experience is ineffable, untranslatable, irreducible – which perhaps helps me understand her processes for making poetry – using words from carefully chosen sources is a way to both make something new, but also to point to the old, the ongoing and the universal.
She is questioned about the use of “I” in the podcast. She says she is very interested in the confessional and tapping into real emotion, yet does not want it to be perceived as about the minor traumas of her own middle-class life. Her “I”’s are not autobiographical or any one person’s personal drama.
I get a sense of this type of confessional in some of the poems, especially in the last two sections. In a sequence of poems, Daly uses biblical material, ending with this one, which to me, is an effective use of collage, and a sharp-witted way to look at feminist and gender issues:
Betty with child. They’ll call his name “Betty’s son,” which being interpreted is Betty’s
If Betty is past the flower of her age, let him do what he will, he doesn’t sin: let them
I have espoused Betty to one husband, that I may present her to Christ.
Espoused to a man whose name was Mr. Betty; and she was Betty.
If you marry, you haven’t sinned; if Betty marries, she hasn’t sinned. Nevertheless such
will have trouble in the flesh: but I spare you.
There is difference between a wife and Betty as a wife.
She that is married cares for the things of the world, i.e., how she may please her
husband. [As for Betty, no mention.]
For me, finding the LA-Lit podcast at Penn Sound and listening to Daly read poems and talk about her writing process, increased my enjoyment of Paper Craft. I enjoy the ways Daly is both serious and playful with what she makes. Her building materials are words that help to show us things about our lives, so that we can pay attention and become aware of them in new ways.
Catherine Daly blogs at ekoj http://cadaly.blogspot.com The e-book version is available for free download at the publisher’s web site. Printed versions are also available.
E.E. Nobbs won the Doire Press 2nd Annual International Poetry Chapbook Contest (2013). The Invisible Girl (Doire Press, 2013) is available through her web site. Most recently, she’s had poems included in two anthologies: Alice – Exphrasis at The British Library and See Into The Dark – SlimVolume Series. She lives in Prince Edward Island, Canada.