Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

On the Otherwise of a Shipwrecked Singularity

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In these posts, I keep gesturing towards a transformable/transformed future, one that with different modes of attention, care, action, and responsibility, could emerge. A future that draws on the activities currently at play in our present: organizing bodies to resist oppression, reimagining how bodies signify, and altering the devastating experiences many bodies, because of their particular forms, are made to internalize. As I’ve written in earlier posts, M. NourbeSe Philip’s Zong!, a book of generosity and listening, offers ways of thinking through and living after these violences. While thinking about Zong! over the past week, George Oppen’s lines in “Of Being Numerous” kept coming into my mind:

Obsessed, bewildered

By the shipwreck
Of the singular

We have chosen the meaning
Of being numerous.*

The “we” who “have chosen” is a complicated one, as “we” always is, at once inclusive and exclusive. While remaining attentive to this dynamic, I’m interested in the way “we” emerges in these lines, as if it’s made by them, by the decision to choose a meaning that extends beyond “the shipwreck / Of the singular” to produce a kind of community, the community of the “obsessed” and “bewildered.” The twinning of these two adjectives suggests a framework for change, for choosing alternate meanings, here specifically that “Of being numerous.” I find my own gestures towards an alternate future, an otherwise, that I keep making in these posts wildly vague. These gestures are a form of “dwelling in possibility” to paraphrase Emily Dickinson, and I think that kind of dwelling is important, but I also worry about it, about how possibility might become material, giving shape to the otherwise that is so often imagined.

* George Oppen, New Collected Poems (New York: New Directions, 2008) 166.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Julie Joosten

Julie Joosten is originally from Georgia but now lives in Toronto. She holds an MFA from the Iowa Writers Program and a PhD from Cornell University. Her poems and reviews can be read in like starlings, Lemon Hound, Lit, Jacket 2, Tarpaulin Sky, the Malahat Review and The Fiddlehead. She recently guest edited an issue of BafterC, a journal of contemporary poetry. Her first book, Light Light, was shortlisted for the 2014 Gerald Lampert Memorial Award, the 2014 Governor General’s Literary Award for Poetry, and the 2014 Goldie Award.

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