Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Cecilia Stuart : HOUNDS as free association




In Sex and the City, they are always saying things like if you only get one great love, New York may just be mine. In The Weeknd songs, The Weeknd is always saying things like I come back to my city, I fuck every girl I know. What these have in common is that they both fill me with the same wistful longing I feel whenever I read or hear or think about the plenitude of city life. The Weeknd is talking about Toronto, though, which is the same place that HOUNDS is talking about.

I have always loved reading and writing about big cities, especially Toronto. It’s a way of making places otherwise bloated and excessive seem interpretable, possible. It’s comforting to think about all the versions of my city that have been expressed and transcribed before me, gorgeously, and how one day I might make some small contribution to this lineage.

Always I am trying to build a story I can locate myself in: one that feels proximate, connected to my body. Like walking down the street instead of watching myself walk down the street. Usually there’s some blockage in the way, though. As if I’m one step out, but just one. As if I know that type of spatial intimacy exists, and if I can mark it down on paper I’ll finally get it. Get what? Something ephemeral, or essential. 

The idea for HOUNDS came from the album Hounds of Love, and mostly the song Running Up that Hill, which I had just spent a summer listening to on endless loop. Whenever I’m bored, or angry, or feeling anything remotely negative, I imagine Kate Bush lounging in a cloud of purple tulle with some slobbery dogs running around in the background. Or I watch the music video for Cloudbusting, or write an erasure poem with the lyrics to Watching You Without Me, etc. From Hounds of Love, inspiration springs eternal. I don’t even know that much about Kate Bush, except that she is seen as reclusive, which I admire.

This fixation amounted to one title, one line in HOUNDS’ first poem: “unless my dreams are scant or shapeless, I don’t need to be astonished.” Then I strung together all the associations that unfurled in its wake: holiday dinners, modes of transit, pieces of garbage I saw on the street. My basement apartment, a gas station in New Brunswick, the colour yellow. Out of these encounters, I made a tall teetering pile: something tactile, something to chew.

So HOUNDS is more or less a list. I call it ekphrasis, but my subject matter is diffuse.

My grasp on the present moment is always a little tenuous. It is there, and then suddenly there’s a new one in its place. Literally who can keep up with this. I struggle to remember how things that happened to me really were, but recording the topography of my surroundings, their emotional tenor, is a form of truth-telling. Like in “Three,” which is about processing a breakup while trying to make a home for myself in the aforementioned basement apartment, or “Coastal,” which recounts the summer I took the GO Train from the suburbs every day to work at a cafe in the PATH (another basement). My recollection of these periods is fuzzy and overly romanticised, but I will always remember flawlessly the pattern of the seats on the GO Train and the way it gently shimmered.

Luckily the world is full of floors, walls, tables and knick-knacks swaying and breathing and laughing with each other. Observing and articulating this energy feels like my only stab at honesty, since I am always nervously rushing from one conversation to the next, never knowing who said what or when.

I am not that interested in conversation. I am interested in circles. The poems in HOUNDS are an attempt at a circle. What colour is anger? What sound does swimming in a public pool make? If it had arms, what would it do with them? I write to document a tiny fragment of the constant churning around me, and eventually to understand myself. To find a means of expression that feels careful and real.

But I do not accept the fidelity of order. I don’t accept making sense of things. I accept that every moment is fluid and new: I am always imagining islands, parking lots, wide-open spaces to coat with language. In a review of Lisa Robertson’s 3 Summers, Sina Queyras writes “I often need poetry to create a utopic space.” For me, writing is a portal to that utopic space: a landscape of ornaments, baubles, elegant detritus. I cobble them into something fulsome and sparkling, and in the end it sprawls.




Cecilia Stuart’s work has appeared in Plenitude, Bad Dog, PRISM international and elsewhere. She is the author of HOUNDS (above/ground press 2020) and Mudroom (Anchorage Press 2018, with Adrian Kiva). She lives in Toronto.


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