How do we discover our deepest desires, those that at once elude and define us? And is it in the discovery--indeed, the realization--of such desires that we finally encounter our essential selves?
Erotikon, Susan Mitchell's astounding new collection, invites us to examine, in shattering detail, the anatomy of pleasure. Sexual appetite--voracious and violent, delicate and lingering--is the pathway to discovery, not just of the self, but of the vast world to which we are connected. Mitchell wants to be shattered, smashed, broken by passion, not for the sake of annihilation, but rather its opposite: Only in so breaking do we allow for the possibility of true communion--with other people, with sensual experience, with the world's redeeming spirit. In Erotikon Mitchell imagines an existence devoid of barriers: "Sometimes I think this, our life on earth, is an egg to break out of. I am claustrophobic. " It is when we are least recognizably ourselves--moved beyond such familiars as gender, names, our human bodies--that we are most alive: primal and burgeoning, poised for an engagement so complete it has the power to transform.
In this collection Mitchell is at her most assured and dazzling: Her lyrics balance the intimate candor for which her work is known with both erudite authority and mischief. Drawing the reader like a lover as though through the natural rhythms of lovemaking--from seduction to surrender to symbiosis--Erotikon is a paean to the communion we long for, and sometimes experience, in our lives on earth.
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Susan Mitchell has won many awards for her poetry including fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the Lannan Foundation. Her previous collection of poetry, Rapture, won the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award and was a National Book Award Finalist. Mitchell grew up in New York City and now lives in Boca Raton, where she holds the Mary Blossom Lee Endowed Chair in Creative Writing at Florida Atlantic University. She is also the author of The Water Inside the Water.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Bird: A Memoir
If you go back far enough in my family tree there are birds. Tall, hunched-up proud birds and also small skittery birds that move like shadows in the branches. How do I know this? Is it something about the face that looks back at me from mirrors? Something in the way I move? In my voice? Yes, it's true I can mimic their songs, but only if I sip warm water first.
Take, for example, the question of locus, blithe recitatives of space where perch I. Or flying, stutter forth on equilibriums of song. Into the vacant, into the empty and open, I hesitant, groping, not at all daring, cowardly and even whimpering put myself deliberately. Why? Why savor the precarious, the unsteady from which in all directions I look out?
Wimble and wigbt, a phrase I like to repeat. is it to calm myself? I am not adverse to fluffs of comfort, and have been known to myself to sing Bye Baby Bunting. And in a voice playful, intimate, haven't I pounced on myself with snug as a bug in a rug? Wimble and wight, perhaps more of a tonic, flagellum or flageolet, with which I whip myself to glees of teeter.
Blue with some straws growing out of it, blue with reedy spires sticking up, with scrannel and scratch. For what am I heartsick? For what yearn I, undaunted by blooms upgathered? Without nets, without catches and clutches, I throw myself into the wild waste places;
I what heaves me into preens of anguish and delight. And for what this prayer upward into sweep and bough?
Of my childhood this remains. A casino by the sea. Inordinate desire. How I loved to stuff myself with the unripe, the unready, the rough and ragged greens of undigested thought. And these ancestral lurkings in my face, only their movements visible, as if something had withdrawn deeper in, closed off by leaves, branches-a weight removing itself, unbalancing into trill and quaver.
Bricoleur is what I am. Collector of scraps: sappy, juicy, unraveling, precipitous. Fragments I yearn together to build what? A tisket? A tasket? No, I am not one to nest, not one for whom the tucked-in, the tiggy, tiggy touchwood matters overmuch. Not for me the serial order of ducks floating their flotillas of domestic bliss for all to see.
More for me, the branch detached, disconnected, where I, forswonk, forswatt, into accolades of space swing out. Not for nothing, I tell myself, snug rhymes with smug. Of dizziness I make my locus amoenus. Upladder and down. Of dizziness, my locus ille locorum. Oh, place of places. So what if rungs are missing. Still rings out what unquiets; me most. How close are terror and pleasure.
But perhaps of my loves it is necessary to say something. Those I supped with, those with whom riotously I danced or in games of hide and seek played for weeks on end in brief fore pleasures of song. in love I was never hesitant. Never coy. To savor, however unsavory, I avis sapiens, sometimes rash, foolhardy even, rushed forward, fipple to bowstring, giddy with galore.
How to apportion the self from branch to branch? To taste and by tasting know. To deligbt to aligbt. These were the mottoes of my youth. And also, song rejoices the mouth. And where buds in goose bumps all along the branch, where newness in flummery foiled and fooled, I the manifold its many folds unfolding filled full of, always ready with my buon appetito.
0 Tite, tute, tati, tibi, tanta, tyranne, tulisti! The kisses tumbling over one another like the letters of a tongue twister. How I love a branch rucked and jammed with buds, with leaf and flower spurred. How I love those difficult passages' for recorder and flute, the stops so close together, the mouth crouched awkward, backward bent, all upside down to play. So 1, fractious, by fractions advanced each day.
Whistles that blow out feather tongues to tease and tickle. So much between the self and other's is maunder and mumble. So much is hem and haw, quaver and falsetto. Thus began my Erotikon-thus, my book of books, round-robin encyclical, orabilia round-the-head and round-the-corner, memorabilia of mobs and rabble, corraling coral with carols, honeycomb and wasp's nest, columns of hum and humble.
On holidays, oriflamme and banderole. Spills of ribbon.But especially balls of bright paper, yellow wound ,around green, green around pink, pink around white. Fasterand faster, I unwound each band, though I knew in the end,only ribbons of paper to twirl and dizzy in. Who would givea gift made entirely of opening? For my third investigationI shall write about sleep. For my seventh, laughter.
Am I waiting for something extraordinary to happen? A sign? An adventure? A leaf that twists oddly as it falls? Sometimes extraordinary things happen in sleep. In sleep Criseyde dreamed a bird exchanged its heart with hers, tearing under her breast with its eagle claws. Chaucer wrote this, adding moonlight and feathers white as bone. Notbyng smene, he said: she felt no pain.
What cages me? What in this wide hugey plain of language is not mine to spit and spew? What sounds me through bars of patois, creoles of my past and future lives? And what did that story mean? Love makes us other than human? Rapacious birds of prey? Hybrid creatures? I have looked into a bird's eye (bright, yellow, mineral) no crumb of speech could feed.
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